Five days into fall camp and it’s pretty evident the Aggies possess more weapons in the passing game than they’ve had in a few years — arguably the most since joining the Mountain West prior to the 2013 football season.
Utah State’s offense shined throughout many of the live drills that were contested during practice Tuesday afternoon at Maverik Stadium. It was USU’s first practice of fall camp with full pads.
“There have been great teams in the past and I’m not going to sit here and diminish anything that’s (happened) in the past, but the fact that we have so many guys coming back, so many guys with experience makes it easy during camp to really work on the technique and to fine-tune your skills, which I think shows on the field,” Aggie slot receiver DJ Nelson said. “And yeah, we have plenty of weapons and plenty of guys to be able to (make an impact).”
Sophomore quarterback Jordan Love looked sharp during 11-on-11 competition Tuesday, while fellow signal callers Henry Colombi and Andrew Peasley also made some nice plays. Love connected with speedy wideout Jordan Nathan for a 65-yard touchdown and also found Ron’quavion Tarver for a 45-yard reception inside the 2-yard line.
The practice ended with Peasley lofting a beautiful 47-yard scoring strike to true freshman Deven Thompkins, who has turned some heads so far during fall camp.
“My assessment right now is you have confident quarterback that’s coming back that, five days into it, looks like he’s had spring ball as a starter and six games, so I’m happy with where Jordan’s at right now,” USU head coach Matt Wells said. “And to be real frank with you, we should be (better offensively) when we’ve got five returning starters backs on the O-line (and) a lot of talent at receiver and tight end. (We have) a good bunch of running backs. We need to find out who the best ones are right now, but I think we should look like that and I’m kind of glad that we have looked like that at times.”
In addition to snaring some big catches, USU’s receivers made some nice blocks on the perimeter during Tuesday’s practice. Nelson sprung Devin Heckstall for an additional 15 yards with a well-executed block. Nelson and Tarver earned the praise of Wells for their blocking.
“Coach Luke (Wells) has ... harped on that and made that a focus for us and, as you can see, it can spring plays, it can be a huge boost to the offense, so credit to him for harping and teaching proper technique so we’re always in the right spot and can get our body in the right position,” Nelson said. “And all (today’s big blocks were) is me doing what I’ve been coached to do since Day 1, since I moved to this position.”
Wells has been very pleased with the outside wide receiver competition. The former Aggie quarterback and Nelson singled out USC transfer Jalen Greene, Heckstall and Thompkins by name — “those three wideouts have caught everybody’s eye,” Wells asserted — for the way they’ve performed so far during fall camp. In addition to those three players, Logan High product Taylor Compton also made some good catches Tuesday, including two on throws by Colombi in a three-play stretch.
“The outside receivers have played well the last couple of days,” Wells said. “(They’ve had) minimal, minimal drops and have made some big plays.”
As well as the offense performed Tuesday, it definitely wasn’t a one-sided practice. In fact, Utah State made several impressive defensive plays. Safety Ja’Marcus Ingram deftly broke up a pass intended for Thompkins in the back of the end zone, and true freshman safety Chris Nash picked off a pass.
Cornerback DJ Williams, a junior college transfer, did an excellent job defending Tarver during one-on-one drills Tuesday, while safety Gaje Ferguson fared well in press coverage, particularly in red zone situations.
“Gaje is a really good player,” Wells said. “He’s come back from the bowl game (strong). He had a great offseason, a really good spring (camp). He’s a tremendous leader, he’s one of our best vocal leaders. I’m excited to watch Gaje his senior year. He’ll have a great year.”
In addition to Ferguson, other defensive players who garnered the praise of Wells were defensive linemen Fua Leilua, Jacoby Wildman and Adewale Adeoye — “those guys have shown out really the most (so far),” — Wells said — and linebacker Tipa Galeai.
“I like where the D-line’s at right now,” Wells said. “Gaje (Ferguson) is a great leader in the secondary. We need some leaders to step up in the linebacker room. I think Tipa Galeai’s had a really good camp so far.”
Another highlight of Tuesday’s practice was 6-foot-4 tight end Aaron Dalton blocking back-to-back rugby style punts during punt block drills.
USU’s first scrimmage will be held Saturday night at Maverik Stadium. That scrimmage, plus Friday’s practice, will be closed to the public. Fans can watch the Aggies practice Wednesday, Thursday, Aug. 13 and Aug. 16.