USU football • Maligned in spring, unit earns praise in summer practices.
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Logan • On one play, Travis Seefeldt exploded from his stance, burst through the opposing offensive line and sacked Chuckie Keeton.
On another, Al Lapuaho rushed around the end, and made a deft tackle in Utah State's backfield.
Those were baby steps on Monday afternoon for USU's defensive line, just a few positive plays in a preseason camp that still has over three weeks to go.
Mentally, however, defensive coordinator Dave Aranda did a happy dance.
"There is a long way to go," Aranda would say. "Still, today was a good one for that group."
Utah State's defensive line has been the most criticized position group of the Aggies' offseason. Coach Gary Andersen called them out in the spring. The group is going to be young and inexperienced to begin with, and the struggles of the spring have been much talked about.
The questions haven't subsided with the start of fall camp. With the linebackers and the secondary seemingly stacked on paper with experience and talent, much of the fate of the defense rests on whether the line can do its part.
"Any good defense starts with the inside and progresses from there," Seefeldt said. "We are going to have to play well, and we know that. We're working hard everyday, and we are doing everything that we can to be successful."
This is a group that lost people like Levi Koskan and Quinn Garner to graduation, Bojay Filimoeatu to a position switch and Eric Bernston to a season-ending injury. It's a group with one guy, Lapuaho, who started the majority of the games last season. And even he is undergoing major change, transitioning to defensive end from his old tackle spot.
Perhaps that was too much to bear in the spring, because the group as a whole played miserably, struggling and drawing Andersen's ire. In the first three days of camp, however, one can notice that the line has been playing better.
In Monday's scrimmage, the first day with shoulder pads, Seefeldt and Elvis Matagi drew Aranda's praise for playing well. Lapuaho and Connor Williams will man the spots on defensive end. While gaining quality depth is an issue, the hope is for players like Jordan Nielsen and Havea Lasike to step up and provide it.
"The line is going to be huge for us," Andersen said. "If they can play well, this has a chance to be a pretty good defense. I think they have been good for the most part, but there is obviously a ways to go."
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