Utah State fall camp: No stated favorite for Aggies backup quarterback
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Logan • Competing for the backup quarterback job isn't the greatest source of pressure, Craig Harrison said. It's the job itself.

While he knows Jeff Manning and Darell Garretson are both vying for the number two spot behind Chuckie Keeton, the threat of up-and-comers isn't what gets to him the most.

"As a backup quarterback you have a huge responsibility to come in tough situations a lot of times," he said. "The game is on the line, and you have to make plays. Bottom line, the pressure is more of a team aspect."

The heat was on Tuesday, as the Aggies spent most of the last hour running full team drills, giving Harrison, Manning and Garretson extra looks for the backup role. Perhaps Harrison's best moment was a strike through the middle of the field to Alex Wheat for about 20 yards.

Each has enjoyed their highlights, but Harrison has consistently gotten second-team looks throughout camp. He also had first-team reps Tuesday while Manning and Garretson had some second-team snaps.

Still, coach Matt Wells said he's looking for a more complete body of work before he declares a winner — well, more of a runner-up to Keeton. He had said before camp that reps wouldn't necessarily indicate a favorite.

"Still a lot of work to be done. I'm not ready," he said. "They've all had good periods and good team sessions and some good practices, and they've had some they wish they could have back. I'm not ready to anoint anybody yet."

For his part, Harrison said he worked in the offseason to get his weight down and get more physically prepared. But the mental game might be his strongest suit, as well as what he's working on the hardest right now.

"The biggest thing I feel like I bring to the table is the ability to run the offense at the tempo they want," he said. "The biggest thing I need to clean up is execution and getting the ball out on time. Not hesitating, just seeing what I see."

Trick play highlights Tuesday practice

After a Monday with some turnover issues, the offense bounced back wearing full pads. Keeton excelled with a number of midrange passes scattered across the field, with Travis Van Leeuwen, Joe Hill and D.J. Tialavea as a few of his favorite targets.

Still, the pass that left everyone talking wasn't from a quarterback. On a screen, receiver Jojo Natson stayed behind the line of scrimmage and heaved a pass to a wide-open Travis Reynolds, who was free and clear for a touchdown.

It was amongthe plays that led Wells to say his defense was "smoked" in practice.

"That's not the standard we want to have around here," he said. "Nothing to be alarmed about, but it's the middle of camp, and we can't have those kinds of days on defense in my opinion."

Van Leeuwen emerging as consistent threat

After a scrimmage with seven catches for 75 yards, senior wideout Van Leeuwen has had a productive few days.

He's been a strong sideline target for Keeton, and has shown a knack for coming down with grabs when battling corners in the air. At 6-foot-3 with long arms, he can go up and get the high balls, but also dive for lower throws. He's repaying some faith the coaching staff had in him to stand out this fall.

"Travis has had a good last three or four practices," Wells said. "He's made some contested catches, which we expect. I'm happy with the way he's played the last few days."

Extra notes

Special teams was a focus early in practice, even though the team ended up spending more time with 11-on-11 situations. Wells said he was still looking to make decisions on special teams in the next few days, and has liked Reynolds and Nevin Lawson on kick return, while Natson and Van Leeuwen have been solid in punt returns. ... The coaching staff used headsets in Tuesday's practice, with playcallers in the booth. Wells said he thought the communication from up top to the sideline had improved since the Saturday scrimmage.

- Kyle Goonkgoon@sltrib.comTwitter: @kylegoon