For those of you heading up to catch Utah State’s last big football scrimmage this fall, here are three position battles on defense to keep your eyes on.
The starting nose guard spot looks like a true three-man battle. Coming into fall camp, redshirt freshman Travis Seefeldt and senior Havea Lasike were the two main contenders to clog up the middle of the Aggies’ 3-4 defensive scheme. After Saturday’s scrimmage, though, it seems that sophomore Elvis Kamana-Matagi has entered the conversation. Matagi started the scrimmage with the first team defense, showing that the coaching staff is still evaluating all three players as potential starters.
Lasike boasts the most experience of the three, seeing time as Al Lapuaho’s backup last season. Now that Lapuaho has moved to the outside, the California native is looking to slide into the vacancy. Havea notched 1.5 sacks last year and forced a fumble in reserve time. Though Lasike has the most experience, he hasn’t won the job yet, which speaks to either his lack of production or to the great talent of the two challengers.
Travis Seefeldt has shown flashes of brilliance throughout the spring and fall after a redshirt year and switch from offense to defense. He’s explosive and strong and made an impressive stop right at the line of scrimmage during Saturday’s scrimmage.
Kamana-Matagi has drawn some rave reviews in the past, but has been limited by injuries during his brief Aggie tenure, including a toe issue last year. Elvis is slightly smaller than Lasike and Seefeldt, but is quick and has two years of tutelage under defensive line coach Frank Maile.
What 2 Watch 4: All three players got plenty of reps with the first team defense on Saturday, and I expect the same tonight. This position battle may last well into next week unless one of them really steps up their game. It will be hard to judge each one’s production as the nose guard is often just responsible for eating up blocks and not necessarily making plays on the ball. Their job is also doubly hard when they have to match up with All-WAC center, Tyler Larsen. Take note of which, if any, of the three spends the most running with the first team. It may give an indicator of who currently has the inside edge.
To be honest, this isn’t much of a battle. Kyler Fackrell and Terrell Thompson entered fall camp fighting to win the spot lining up opposite Bojay Filimoeatu as the other outside linebacker. But after remarkable practice and scrimmage play, Fackrell has pretty much locked up the spot.
Fackrell, a redshirt freshman, has drawn almost non-stop praise since he arrived in Logan last year. He nearly didn’t redshirt last year because of his talent, but last year’s abundant linebacker depth allowed Coach Andersen to potentially get four years of starting experience for the tall, talented Fackrell. Kyler turned in arguably the best defensive effort during Saturday’s scrimmage. He registered two sacks, a quarterback hurry and displayed jaw-dropping speed as he ran down speedy running back Joe Hill from behind – check out Fackrell (#52) get blocked back, recover and make the tackle on the play at 2:10 of this video. Fellow linebacker Filimoeatu has even tagged him as a potential superstar.
Terrell Thompson is talented in his own regard, but probably not quite up to the high bar Fackrell has set. Thompson is making the switch from safety after he sat out most of last season due to injury. Terrell boasts speed, is a little on the light end, but should still see a good amount of action on the field this year.
What 2 Watch 4: Focus on Kyler Fackrell for a few plays. No doubt you’ll see him fly around the field making plays and you’ll come to understand what the fuss is all about if you haven’t already. If he lines up on the defensive front to rush the passer, pay attention to how quickly he gets off the ball. Terrell doesn’t have much of a shot to nab the starting spot, but monitoring his progress could be important if injury were to strike (knock on wood).
Coming into Saturday’s scrimmage, I was under the impression that returning senior starter Jumanne Robertson had a starting job locked up opposite shut-down corner, Nevin Lawson. Surprisingly, Will Davis got the start while Jumanne ran with the second team defense. Only after the coaches had shut down Davis for the day did Robertson get a shot running with the ones. Davis showed why he deserved to be a starter when he picked off an Adam Kennedy pass and returned it 33 yards. Robertson also grabbed an interception of his own off a pass deflection.
Davis showed improvement throughout last season and seemed to deflect a lot of passes near the goal line. He showed off his impressive 40″ vertical to deflect end zone passes against Wyoming, San Jose State, and…ugh…BYU, but let’s not relive that right now.
Robertson started most of last season and led the team in pass break-ups with 12, but drew the ire of many fans with his Ade Jimoh-like cushion on receivers. Robertson does possess great closing speed, though, to make up for any errors in coverage.
What 2 Watch 4: It’ll be interesting to see who rolls onto the field first. Lawson will certainly be there and Terrence Alston might as well as a nickel corner, but it remains to be seen if Davis truly has taken away Robertson’s spot. Both corners are experienced and talented. The coaching staff may have a difficult, but reassuring, decision to make in the coming days.
Be sure to keep an eye on these position battles as the defense attempts to replicate its dominating performance from last week.