Logan • Having surgery for the first time was tough, Tavaris McMillian said, but it taught him to be patient.
Doctors repaired his torn labrum after last season, and it was a waiting game. Now that he's been cleared and is wearing pads again, the junior linebacker is relishing the opportunity to show what he can do.
"I got it done the mature way, no pouting," he said. "Everything's all good. Now I can help the team on the field."
McMillian has made plays behind the line of scrimmage, in the passing game - really all over the field for the Aggies since the start of fall camp. Coaches are comfortable with him playing all four linebacker positions after racking up 39 tackles last season.
But he's far from the only linebacker earning some approval. The position seems to be Utah State's deepest. Nick Vigil is playing adeptly at both inside spots, making plays with first- and second-team reps. La'Bradford Harold is showing well one week into fall camp.
"I like those guys, I think that it gives you depth," coach Matt Wells said. "There will be roles for those guys."
All three should see snaps this fall, but they're playing behind arguably on of the most talented groups in the conference, if not the nation. Jake Doughty, Zach Vigil, Kyler Fackrell and Terrell Thompson are also some of the fiercest competitors of camp so far, and all will play huge roles this season.
But it's still a competition, McMillian said. He shares camraderie with Thompson, for example, but reminds his teammate every day that he's auditioning for his job.
"If he slips up, I'll take the spot," he said. "I don't care if you're a senior or not. We love to compete, me and him, and that's what makes us better."
Natson limiting his drops
In the much-discussed hunt for a playmaking wide receiver, Jojo Natson definitely has everyone's attention.
The sophomore used Friday's practice, the Aggies' final session before Saturday's 10 a.m. scrimmage, to showcase a few of his talents. Among the highlights was a long pass to the right sideline as the the first-team offense was driving down the field.
The latter half of the week has brought some big catches, and Natson has been on the end of his share. It's impressing Wells, who mentioned Thursday he couldn't remember the last time he saw Natson drop a ball.
"He's an electric player," Wells said. "He can stop and start on a dime. He's just a little waterbug. You can't hit him up in a phone booth. He's playing with a lot of a confidence right now, and I expect him to have a good year."
Tahi bringing NFL experience to staff
His job title is "offensive administrative assistant." Fahu Tahi is one of several former football players getting his start in college coaching this year.
But Utah State's running backs have been eager to pick the brain of the six-year NFL fullback, who also was a stud rusher and blocker at Granger and BYU. With his career taking him to Cincinnati, Minnesota and Jacksonville, Tahi's presence has, at least, been a resource for a roster full of backs who hope to play pro some day.
"I love it because he keeps it real ... he tells it like it is," Joey DeMartino said. "That's why we really respect him. He has a lot of all-around knowledge for blocking, for attacking defenders and stuff. He's just a great resource."
Brandon Swindall shined during the practice-ending two-minute drills, catching three straight passes from Chuckie Keeton as the clock wound down to get the team in the red zone. ... Lineman B.J. Larsen was one of the defense's top guys on Friday, getting to Keeton for a "sack" and breaking up a pass that he almost intercepted. ... The Aggies wished a 10-year-old fan happy birthday during the halfway break in practice. Wells brought the boy, Tyson, down from the stands and led the team in a rendition of "Happy Birthday" before the players lifted him up on their shoulders and huddled around him - probably the thrill of a lifetime for a young Utah State fan.
Kyle Goonkgoon@sltrib.comTwitter: @kylegoon