LOGAN -- Utah State football coach Gary Andersen faces an interesting prospect as the Aggies dive into spring football action.
Last season, quarterback Chuckie Keeton was an elusive, mobile 18-year-old athlete who was putting up big numbers, but an injury more than halfway through the season at Hawaii placed Keeton on the sidelines and opened the door for Adam Kennedy to lead the Aggies to the postseason, their first such appearance in 14 years.
Andersen reiterated this week during the first week of USU spring practices that there was never any talk about Keeton redshirting in favor of Kennedy.
"No, there has not been talk about that," Andersen said after acknowledging that Keeton is currently considered as the front-runner. "But it's an open battle, just like it was last year. Chuckie was last (on the depth chart) last season but was named the starter.
"If Jeff Manning (USU's third-string quarterback) is the best quarterback through this camp and the fall, he'll be the starter. The best quarterback throughout spring and fall camp, as in any position, will play. Depth charts are overrated."
Andersen's philosophy has created what he described as a "positive" competition between players at all positions, from wide receivers to join projected starters Matt Austin and Chuck Jacobs -- a group that Andersen said he is as pleased with as any position on the team -- to the tight end position left open by the departure of second-team all-WAC tight end Tarren Lloyd.
While all reports said that Kerwynn Williams (542 rushing yards, 6.7 yards per carry in 2011) will be the new feature back due to the departure of potential NFL draftees Robert Turbin and Michael Smith, Andersen said that even junior Tyler Larsen, a first-team all-WAC selection last season, will be pushed by junior Chris Friesen at the center position.
"Is there a good chance of that happening?" Andersen asked. "You might as well play for it. Every day, we fight together as a team to get better and fight as individuals to get better."
The competition figures to be most intense at the defensive line. Andersen said after Thursday's practice that his team would go 0-12 if the defensive line doesn't improve from their current "way below average" status.
"We gotta get tougher up front and that's a lot on coach Andersen," he said. "They have a lot of youth and a lot of excitement. The key for us is to make sure to develop that youth, help them improve on what their strengths are and also take their weaknesses and develop those to get them to play at a high level. Also, we need to keep the experience healthy."
Among the few experienced individuals at the line is Al Lapuaho, a starter last season and an all-conference performer for Snow College in 2010.
"We have a long way to go in all areas, especially D-line," Lapuaho said. "We lack in leaders. We lack an identity and we're trying to find that."
Andersen said that outside of the receivers -- especially Jacobs, whom Kennedy also singled out as a major playmaker in the first week of practices -- he was pleased with the play of all three signal-callers in camp, though he said they were "average" by the end of the week.
Not that Andersen wasn't aware of his criticisms on both sides of the ball.
"I'm going to be hard on this group. I have high expectations of them and where we're headed as a program," he said. "They probably don't think I feel they had a good first week, but overall the effort is there, the want is there. We just have to continue to fight."
Count Lapuaho among those who is on the same page as the captain.
"We just want to finish strong," he said. "At the end of the day we want to make coach Andersen happy."