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Utah State football: Aggies go inside for first spring practice

LOGAN — Following the shortest offseason in the history of Utah State, the Aggie football team took to the field Saturday morning for the first practice of the spring feeling like it was simply picking up where it left off.

“I would say it was a quick offseason,” USU head coach Matt Wells noted following USU’s no-pads session at the Stan Laub Training Center. “This is the earliest start we’ve ever had to spring ball. And the late bowl game was great because we had 13 bowl-prep practices, so that was almost another spring ball.

“And I think today almost seemed like it was an extension of that.”

It also helps that the 2018 version of the Aggies is heavy with veteran players. Utah State lost only 15 lettermen and four starters from last year’s team, including All-American cornerback Jalen Davis, leading rusher LaJuan Hunt and standout safety Dallin Leavitt.

The 18 returning starters are tied with the 2007 team for the most in USU history, while the program’s 52 returning letterwinners are the most ever at the school, bettering the 49 in 2013.

“We have 18 guys out there that started in the bowl game, and when you have that many coming back they should know how to line up and move around the first day,” Wells said.

For the first time since 2014, the Aggies also have a familiar face back at offensive coordinator for the second consecutive year. But while David Yost’s trademark blond hair was easy to spot Saturday at the Stan Laub Center, last season’s special teams coach Mark Tommerdahl was noticeably absent.

“We wish him the best; he’s a pro’s pro, is what he is,” Wells said of Tommerdahl, who took a similar position at Purdue just two days ago. “I hate to see him leave, but we’re happy for him and the opportunity he got. But I also know this, this program is bigger than one coach, and it’s bigger than one player, former coach, current head coach. … Utah State will move forward, and we’ll find a new coach to come in here and wrap his arms around our specialists.”

While Tommerdahl is now in Indiana, Saturday marked the Aggie debut of new defensive coordinator Keith Patterson, a 15-year coaching vet who was most recently at Arizona State. Last season, the USU defense operated under the guidance of co-coordinators Kendrick Shaver and Frank Maile, but Shaver left for Washington State during the offseason, and Wells ended up bringing in Patterson while altering Maile’s title to assistant head coach/co-defensive coordinator/defensive line coach.

Wells also announced recently that former administrative assistant Uani ’Unga has been elevated to full-time coach status in charge of outside linebackers

“There aren’t any big changes,” senior linebacker Chase Christiansen said of USU’s defense under Patterson. “But there are some schematic changes that are really helpful to us, so we’ve just got to get ’em down. Nothing major.”

Offensively, USU’s collection of quarterbacks Saturday didn’t include Kent Myers for the first time in four years, and former backup QB DJ Nelson was used exclusively as a slot receiver, a position he spent time at late in the season in 2017. That left sophomore Jordan Love, redshirt freshman Henry Colombi and freshman newcomer Andrew Peasley to take most of the snaps at quarterback.

Love, who took over the starting position from Myers midway through the 2017 season and ended up completing 129 of 235 passes for 1,631 yards, eight touchdowns and six interceptions, is the likely starter heading into the 2018 season.

“Today was a good first practice coming out for spring,” Love said. “I feel like we started off on a good note, right where we left off from last season. We look good right now.

“… It feels like we just got done with the bowl game a month ago, and now we’re back out here. It’s not as much of a break as the year before, and I think that helps.”

Saturday’s session was the first of 15 practices scheduled over a five-week period. Utah State will wrap up its spring practices with the annual Blue vs. White Spring Game at 2 p.m. Saturday, April 7, at Maverik Stadium.

Wells is entering his sixth season at the helm of the Aggies, making him the longest tenured head football coach at Utah State since Chuck Shelton ran the program from 1986 to ’91. The Aggies bounced back from a three-win season in 2016 to finish 4-4 in the Mountain Division of the Mountain West Conference and 6-7 overall, including a 26-20 overtime loss to New Mexico State on Dec. 29 in the NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl.