Gary Andersen went to Utah State as a defensive expert. After a full season plus a second spring session under his belt, he's finally seeing that part of the Aggies' game catch up to what's been a faster-growing offense.
"Overall, I think it's gone back and forth from offense to defense," Andersen said. "Last year, it was completely one-sided where the offense dominated. Throughout the spring practices, there has been give-and-take on both the offense and defense. I think that shows progress."
Utah State, feeling very optimistic coming off a 4-8 campaign to open the Andersen era, capped spring practices April 24 with good signs from both sides of the ball.
Diondre Borel could become a lot less anonymous at quarterback, by Western Athletic Conference visibility standards and beyond. The running game may have some potential, even without the extended absence of Robert Turbin because of a knee injury.
And the size, depth and conditioning of the defense could mean the Aggies won't have to win games 52-49 like they did last season to beat Idaho to end the season.NOTES, QUOTES
--The Aggies' success goes directly through senior quarterback Diondre Borel. It really is hard to believe he was once a freshman wide receiver who was hardly used.
"I think he's ready," Aggies coach Gary Andersen said. "I think he takes that superstar leap this season."
Andersen is no stranger to being around good quarterbacks. At Utah, as defensive coordinator, he saw Alex Smith develop into a No. 1 NFL draft pick and then witnessed Brian Johnson use five years to become the undisputed leader of a team that went to the Sugar Bowl and defeated Alabama at the end of the 2008 season.
"I'm ready," Borel said. "I've had a good winter in the weight room, I'm excited to get on the football field and I think that we're going to have a good spring and beyond."
--The running game is still a question mark without Robert Turbin, who continues to heal from a winter ACL (knee) injury that may keep him from participating next season. It'll at least be until the midway point.
"It's frustrating, obviously, because I just put in a lot of work after the season," Turbin said. "I put in a lot of work and to hurt yourself doing something you do every day is frustrating because you have to sit out and watch your team play because I want to be out there."
Turbin praised his backups-turned-potential-starters during spring ball.
"I think Michael Smith and Derrvin Speight are two very good senior running backs, and they are going to have to step up and play bigger roles obviously now that I'm out. But I think they can get the job done, I really do," Turbin said.
QB Diondre Borel -- Head coach Gary Andersen says his senior is ready to make the leap to superstar level. No question, if Borel stays healthy he has the potential to become a big name in the West, or maybe even the national circuit. His continued ability to throw, along with his natural running skills, will be a focal point for every defense.
LB Junior Keiaho and Devin Johnson -- They moved to linebacker from the D-line, as the Aggies have continued to try and put proper body types in the right places to reconfigure a defense that was among the nation's worst last year.
"We're getting bigger and faster," head coach Gary Andersen said. "We have to, to be able to compete."
D-coordinator Bill Busch -- The former Nebraska aide is becoming like Dave Baldwin, his colleague who runs USU's offense. The Aggies could be significantly better at stopping an opponent's attack this year. A productive spring appeared to produce more confidence in abilities and assignments, along with general morale.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I've always admired his work. And I thought when they hired him up here, that it was a great hire." -- College football legend LaVell Edwards (a Utah State graduate), speaking about second-year Aggies coach Gary Andersen in mid-April when he visited spring camp to talk to the team. Edwards played three years at USU, graduating in 1952, before becoming more famous as the head coach at BYU.STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
2010 OUTLOOK: Familiarity has become a buzzword at Utah State. Second-year head coach Gary Andersen believes a big part of improvement will be created by players (both new and veteran) fully understanding the expectations and goals Andersen and his staff have set.
"The kids are more confident," Andersen said after concluding spring practices with a blue-white game April 24. "The kids understand everything from policies right down to their position coaches. As time goes by, they understand that when we say something, we mean it."
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: If USU is to actually improve -- and not just talk about doing it in the offseason -- quarterback Diondre Borel will have to be everything advertised by the impressed coaching staff that inherited him from Brent Guy, and has developed him to a far greater extent. Borel would have been a focal point anyway, but the loss of running back Robert Turbin for at least half the season makes Borel an even greater target. That, and a questionable receiving corps threaten to undermine Borel's talents. But the USU staff has been confident that the pass catchers will be improved, led by senior Stanley Morrison.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: USU's defense was ranked below No. 100 in all four major defensive categories, and particularly wore down in the second halves of losses to Nevada and Fresno State.
"When you play against the Boises and Fresnos, they bang you around pretty good," said defensive coordinator Bill Busch.
That's why the Aggies have moved around a bunch of players, and tried to bulk them up. Perhaps most notably, former safety Maxim Dinka-Mba (a senior from Plano, Texas) shifted from seldom-used linebacker to mostly defensive end. He became one of USU's best playmakers, especially in the final spring game April 24 when he recorded a team-best eight tackles plus two for loss (including a sack).
SCOUTING THE SPECIAL TEAMS: Kicker Peter Caldwell went 5-for-7 in the final scrimmage on field-goal tries. He hit three from 37 yards, his longest attempts, but went 2-of-4 from 30 yards. He'll have a fight in August to keep his job. That position will be extremely valuable, as the Aggies are not the type of team that can afford to come away empty on scoring opportunities and the kicking game was hit-and-miss a year ago.
--Senior receiver Stanley Morrison worked this spring at quarterback a little bit. The Aggies apparently plan on installing a "wildcat" option. "Just something different to throw at defenses," Morrison said.
--Former BYU coaching legend LaVell Edwards visited his alma mater in mid-April. "I like the schemes, both offensively and defensively. I just think it's gonna be a good ballclub," said Edwards, a 1952 alum of USU who played there for three years. "I think (USU head coach Gary Andersen) is headed in the right direction."
Edwards has known Andersen for 20 years.
--James Brindley did not hear his name called during the 2010 NFL Draft, but it didn't take long for the former Aggie safety to find a team. Brindley signed as a free agent with the Seattle Seahawks on April 24. A bit undersized, he nonetheless had a good nose for the ball and did a lot at USU despite not having much defensive help in front of him. It's good spring news to get out to recruits, that Andersen and his staff can produce NFL talent. He created his fair share in his former gig, as the defensive coordinator at Utah.
Previous Report: 04/09/2010