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Football isn't played in shorts, cornerback Nevin Lawson said. He can't wait to get out the pads.

But in the Utah State football team's first practice Tuesday, the players coming back from an 11-2 campaign in 2012 got a positive vibe even though they were running through plays without full gear.

There's a lot to find out in the next month before the spring game — especially when the Aggies start hitting each other — but if Tuesday was any indication, USU is on the right track.

"I would say we were more in sync than last spring," said Lawson. "We know our expectations, we know our goals, we know how hard we have to work to reach them."

Coaches and players alike noticed a surprising crispness to Utah State's first practice. That seems to come with 15 returning starters on offense and defense, including 10 all-WAC honorees.

The coaching staff, led by new head coach Matt Wells, didn't hold back, and neither did many of the leaders of the team. Although defense had the better day with a pair of interceptions, it seemed to the Aggies that the continuity from last season has already shown itself.

"Everyone retained a lot, and they showed that today," quarterback Chuckie Keeton said. "It was good for us on the mental aspects, getting back in the saddle and things like that."

Utah State showed signs that it could again have a solid defense, including picks from Nick Vigil and Devonta Glover-Wright. Keeton, who threw one of the interceptions, was left wishing for a few more throws. There have been a few wrinkles so far under new defensive coordinator Todd Orlando, but the Aggies didn't show all that much rust for the first spring session.

"They're showing us they're going to be an elite defense again," Keeton said. "It gives us something to work for on offense."

The friendly competition was good for the secondary, which is replacing Will Davis and McKade Brady in starting spots.

One of the intriguing plug-ins at strong safety is Maurice Alexander, who had been dismissed from the team for last season after a fight with a teammate but is making a comeback. Alexander is shifting to the secondary from outside linebacker, and Lawson was among the fans of the returned senior's play.

"Me and Maurice have great communication," he said. "Just playing next to him, he wants the best out of himself. Playing with Mo is just a great feeling."

Keeton has five returning linemen to work with, but new players at the skill positions. Joe Hill showed speed at running back in the first practice in his quest for a starting spot. Receivers Travis Reynolds and Travis Van Leeuwen have a good rapport with the starting quarterback.

But Keeton was among those who liked what he saw from some receivers still trying to prove themselves.

"Jojo Natson, he's showing why he's here and he's matured a lot," Keeton said. "Jordan Jenkins is improving a lot more. They were making plays out there."

Aggies get rolling

O Utah State starts spring practice with 15 returning starters.

• Devonta Glover-Wright and Nick Vigil make interceptions.

• The first padded practice is scheduled for Thursday.

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