Andersen says nothing's guaranteed for USU's stars

Apr 21 2012 - 10:46pm

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LOGAN -- As he begins his fourth season as the head football coach at Utah State, Gary Andersen is enforcing a philosophy from previous seasons not just in Logan, but stretching back to his own playing days. It includes all of his players, whether it be 2011 stars Robert Turbin and Bobby Wagner, or Jake Simonich, one of this spring's freshman offensive linemen.

It's a philosophy that sophomore linebacker Tavaris McMillian says requires players to start "playing football well" in college, rather than allowing players to merely get away with being "athletes," like a talent of McMillian's caliber could be in high school.

It's a mindset that all-WAC center Tyler Larsen said he would also use as a coach, even though it makes life more difficult for him at the moment.

The benefit of declaring that all starting positions are open during spring practices -- regardless of a player's previous experience -- only motivates the team to realize their abilities more than they would otherwise, Andersen said.

"You need to make every snap a competition," he said. "It keeps the motivation in the offseason. At Division I football, you have to take the fresh start to evaluate."

Of course, many eyes are evaluating at least one particular position during drills. Quarterbacks Chuckie Keeton and Adam Kennedy continue to battle for the starting position, with no word yet on who will emerge as the starter. Andersen agreed that Keeton and Kennedy may currently fall into the "1A" and "1B" categories, respectively, if a depth chart must be drawn up, but said the battle continues.

In USU's most recent scrimmage Friday, Keeton completed 9-of-13 passes for 98 yards with one touchdown, while Kennedy was 7-of-13 for 42 yards with one interception.

Each of their performances led Andersen to say that the offensive units are not "throwing and catching the ball consistently enough," a different analysis than projected running back Kerwynn Williams gave after USU's first scrimmage on April 9. At the time, Williams said he was impressed with all facets of the offense, including Keeton and Kennedy's ability to make reads.

"There's not a lot of drops, but it's sometimes protections or the snaps, or just not getting open," Andersen said, before adding that Kennedy's second group had better communication in the scrimmage.

Williams figures to be the feature back in the fall after tallying 542 yards on the ground last season. Limited in his carries in two scrimmages, nine other Aggies carried the ball on Friday. Joey DeMartino finished with 50 yards on 10 carries, while Joe Hill added 22 yards on seven carries.

The ground game has been successful for the USU offense in the spring, something Andersen and those on the other side of the ball understand all too well. Two weeks removed from saying his team would go 0-12 if the defensive line didn't improve, Andersen said he was pleased to see the defense move forward early in the week before getting exposed in the scrimmage.

The evolution of the defense as a whole is something redshirt freshman Kyler Fackrell agreed was developing.

"We're coming together as a unit a lot better," Fackrell said after the scrimmage. "Just in running to the ball and effort, and in technique and communication -- that's what they've been emphasizing a lot -- we've gotten a lot better."

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