LOGAN — Following a 4-8 season in 2010, the most apparent area Utah State needed improvement in was in the trenches.
The offensive and defensive lines were undersized and short on depth, wearing down late in games against bigger and stronger opponents. USU head coach Gary Andersen aggressively recruited on the lines to resolve the issue in the offseason, and it shows before the team even steps on the field.
"We look a lot better coming off the bus," Andersen said.
This year's smallest starter on the offensive line is the still massive 6-foot-2, 285-pound sophomore guard Jamie Markosion.
"We are bigger, faster and we can get movement on the ball this year," center Tyler Larsen said about the offensive line. "We are definitely better at protecting quarterbacks this year. We are a lot more comfortable this year. It's really starting to click with us."
As big as the offensive line is, the defensive line is even bigger as the Aggies switch to the 3-4 defense. Utah State will utilize 6-3, 295-pound former Granger High star Al Lapuaho, 6-1, 305-pound junior college transfer Havea Lasike and mammoth 6-foot, 351-pound SMU transfer Evan Huahulu to eat up space at the nose guard position.
Quinn Garner and the versatile Bojay Filimoeatu are the probable starters at the defensive end position. Filimoeatu, another former Granger High standout, has already made his presence felt in training camp, collecting three sacks in the team's first scrimmage. Andersen imagines the newcomer in a role like linebacker Bobby Wagner, moving around the defense to cause havoc and confusion in an opponent's offense.
"I had to learn a lot of things in rapid speed," Filimoeatu said. "I had to learn the defensive line position in some places and the outside linebacker position in others, but my coaches and teammates were there for me and I pretty much have it down now."
Moving around the enormous defensive line and dealing with complex blitz schemes every practice has made the offensive line even better according to Larsen.
"You can definitely feel it on your body going against (the defensive line) every day," Larsen said. "Once we get the right technique and when we are working together, it's a lot different. You can feel the difference of two guys pushing against one. We are getting double teams and you can get movement. It makes it a lot easier."
While the Aggies look bigger and better in the trenches, it does not mean anything if it does not translate to the field, opening up holes for running back Robert Turbin and protecting the blindside of the quarterback.
"There are a bunch of guys on that offensive line that want to be great. We haven't had that a lot in years past," Turbin said. "They are bigger in size, but to me, size doesn't really matter if you have enough heart. They are bigger and they come out here every single day and they work their tails off to get better."2 comments on this story
Larsen agrees that the offensive line will not be outworked.
"We are the hardest working group that we have," Larsen said. "We just have to keep working and working. You can see us progressing every day. We are just trying our best to really improve."
Tyler Larsen, center. The Aggies have explosive running backs, promising quarterbacks and deep threats at wide receiver. None of that means anything without a good offensive line. In steps sophomore Larsen, the former Jordan High Beetdigger who made all the blocking calls from the line as a freshman last season and will have even more on his plate in 2011 with a brand new quarterback under center. Larsen was named to the preseason Rimington Trophy Watch List, given to the nation's most outstanding center every season. If Larsen and his linemates can open holes and give the quarterback time to throw, the Aggie offense could be special this season.