Utah State football held its fifth spring practice Thursday morning on Merlin Olsen Field at Maverik Stadium, and one of the many focuses for the team this spring is for its linebackers to develop an identity through toughness and effort.

Utah State returns seven letterwinners from last season and eight linebackers total who have combined to play in 106 games with 21 starts.

“We just finished our fifth practice and we are progressing,” said linebackers coach Stacy Collins. “We are getting better every day, but we have to continue to develop as we go. We’ve got a solid group right now and I’m excited to see them in a game situation.

“As we head into our first scrimmage we are looking for consistency, being solid with our technique and our effort, and incorporating all of that into a game setting.”

In all, Utah State returns 13 linebackers who were members of the program during the 2016 season, including two starters in senior Alex Huerta and junior Derek Larsen. USU also welcomes back five other letterwinners here in senior Patrick Lee Miranda, junior Chase Christiansen and sophomores Dalton Baker, Justus Te’i and Mason Tobeck.

Huerta has the most returning game experience for Utah State as he has played in 24 contests with seven starts, while Larsen has appeared in 21 games with seven starts. Christiansen has played in 13 games and made two starts, Andersen has appeared in 13 games, Te’i has played in 12 games with four starts, Tobeck and Baker have both seen action in eight games with Tobeck making one start and Miranda appeared in seven games a year ago.

“First and foremost, we are working on effort and toughness,” said Larsen. “We have to come out and be mentally tough and physically tough, and that has to be our mentality. That is what we are really trying to focus on and develop an identity with.

“As for me personally, I have moved from the outside to inside and my footwork is key right now, along with keeping my pad level low.”

Furthermore, Utah State welcomes back three linebackers who redshirted last season in freshmen Kevin Meitzenheimer, Troy Murray and David Woodward, to go along with two others who practiced with the team but did not play in any games in sophomores Mason Gajkowski and Braden Harris.

Utah State continues with spring practice Friday afternoon by holding its first scrimmage of camp.

During the five-week period, the Aggies will participate in 15 spring practice sessions, including their annual Blue vs. White Spring Game on Saturday, April 8, on Merlin Olsen Field at Maverik Stadium at 2 p.m.

Doug Hoffman is the associate athletic director for Utah State University Athletic Media Relations.