LOGAN — As fall camp rolls along in Logan and with the season mere weeks away, it's time to take a look at Utah State's position groups.
The Aggies return plenty of last year's starters, which undoubtedly will give them an advantage as they prepare for the 2018 season. But there's a few slots to fill and a couple of excellent newcomers who will surely make an impact this season.
Jordan Love moved up from freshman backup to sophomore starter much quicker than anyone anticipated after senior Kent Myers' struggles led to Love taking over in the middle of the season. Now he's the established starter headed into the season after passing for 1,377 yards, eight touchdowns and six interceptions.
While Love isn't a run-first quarterback, he is mobile enough to buy time for his receivers and a strong enough arm to make the big play. After all, he made two 70-yard or longer touchdown passes in one game against UNLV. Time will tell what kind of progress he's made over the offseason.
Despite last season's leading rusher LaJuan Hunt's graduation, the Aggies appear to have the pieces in the backfield for a successful rushing attack. The two top rushers fighting for the starting position are converted WR Gerold Bright and junior college All-American Darwin Thompson. Bright showed his big-play ability with a 75-yard touchdown run against Air Force, while Thompson had 1,391 yards and eight touchdowns at Oklahoma A&M.
But Utah State has more than just Bright and Thompson in the backfield. Eltoro Allen and Morian Walker both return after missing time due to injury last season. The Aggies should have no lack of talented backs able to run the ball.
Senior wide receiver Ron'quavion Tarver returns after leading the team in receiving yards (569) and touchdown receptions (seven). He might be flying a bit under the radar heading into his final season in Logan, but he should have the full attention of opposing defenses.
The Z-WR spot appears to be a two-way race between sophomore Savon Scarver and senior Jalen Greene, while the slot receiver battle is a three-way race between sophomore Jordan Nathan, senior Aaren Vaughns and senior converted QB D.J. Nelson.
Utah State has only two first-team preseason All-Mountain West Conference selections this season, and one of them is tight end Dax Raymond. He had 41 catches for 456 yards and a touchdown, and he's looking for even better things in 2018. Carson Terrell also contributed as a freshman last season with 10 catches for 107 yards. Both are big physical men who could pose matchup problems for opposing defenses.
It's not often that all five starting offensive linemen return in college football, but that's what Utah State has this year. Senior OT Roman Andrus, senior OG Rob Castaneda, senior OC Quin Ficklin, junior OG Moroni Iniguez and senior OT Sean Taylor make up quite the veteran offensive line as all of them started in at least 11 games last year.
Like the offensive trenches, Utah State returns all three of its starters from last season on the defensive line. DE Adewale Adeoye, DE Devon Anderson and NG Christopher Unga all come back after combining for 12.5 tackles for loss and 2.0 sacks.
The Aggies also return several key returning backups, including the position's leading tackler Jacoby Wildman. Wildman made 45 tackles with 1.5 tackles for loss and 1.0 sacks last season. Five other defensive linemen with at least one tackle from last season also return.
Utah State has several returning starters with one intriguing transfer to add to the position group. Tipa Galeai transferred from TCU after making 24 tackles, 5.5 of those for loss and 3.5 sacks as a sophomore. He joins an experienced linebacker group led by last season's leading tackler Suli Tamaivena, who made 111 tackles and 6.5 of them for loss. Chase Christiansen also returns at inside linebacker after making 71 tackles and forcing four fumbles last year.
Jontrell Rocquemore was a safety last season, but he's listed as a starting outside linebacker on Utah State's fall camp depth chart. This could also reflect new co-defensive coordinator Keith Patterson's tendency to use the 3-3-5 defense.
With the losses of Dallin Leavitt at safety and Jalen Davis at cornerback, the secondary has the greatest number of position battles on the defensive side of the ball. The safeties seem to be established as Ja'Marcus Ingram and Gaje Ferguson are on top of the depth chart. Ferguson is a returning starter after making 90 tackles last season, while Ingram is moving from cornerback to safety after having five pass breakups and a pick to his credit.
Both cornerback positions appear to be up for grabs as Cameron Haney battles with DJ Williams on one side and Deante Forntenberry competes against Andre Grayson on the other. We'll see who can separate themselves enough to pick up the starts.
The other preseason All-Mountain West selection from Utah State was place-kicker Dominik Eberle. Eberle connected on 18 of his 24 field goal attempts last season, including a 52-yard attempt against San Jose State. He set a school record for points scored by a kicker with 19 against the Spartans and will certainly be in the race for the Lou Groza Award for the nation's best kicker.
Aaron Dalton returns at punter after averaging 42.0 yards per punt last season. And the Aggies have some speedster punt and kickoff returners in Jordan Nathan, Savon Scarver and Gerold Bright.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story misstated the opponent when Jordan Love threw two 70-yard or longer touchdown passes in one game.