As with the defensive line, Utah State brings back plenty of experience to its linebacker group in 2018. The Aggies are hoping that with all the talent returning that this team can get back to what we've come to expect from Utah State's front seven ever since Gary Andersen came to Logan.
There's plenty of work to do. Utah State gave up 216.4 yards rushing per game last season. However, there's plenty of optimism that the Aggies can change that heading into the 2018 season.
Here's a breakdown of USU's linebackers. Jamaal Evans is not included in this list. He was recently charged with rape and the team has suspended him.
ILB: Chase Christiansen, Suli Tamaivena
OLB: Justus Te'i, Tipa Galeai
The Aggies return three seasoned starters. Senior inside linebacker Tamaivena led Utah State in tackles with 111 and tackles-for-loss with 6.5. The former JC transfer also had two fumble recoveries and 3.0 sacks last season and will be the senior leader of the Aggie defense. He's joined inside by fellow senior Christiansen, who made 71 tackles, 4.0 for loss, 1.0 sack and three forced fumbles.
Te'i returns after starting at outside linebacker last year. The junior picked up 37 tackles and just 0.5 of them for loss. Out of last year's starters, he has to be the one who is most anxiously looking over his shoulder. He did have two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries last season, though.
The newcomer to watch is Galeai, who played defensive end at TCU in 2016. He had 24 tackles, 5.5 of those for loss and 3.5 sacks as a sophomore. He was on his way to a solid career with the Horned Frogs before he was arrested and charged with assault back in March of 2017 and was dismissed from the university. Here's hoping that he's learned his lesson and will make the most of his second chance at Utah State. At any rate, he's a welcome addition to the defense and will be a critical playmaker this fall.
ILB: David Woodward, Mason Tobeck, Kevin Meitzenheimer, Derek Larsen, Ofa Latu, Braden Harris, Daniel Langi
OLB: Baron Gajkowski, Louy Compton, Maika Magalei, Jordan Hayes, Mason Gajkowski
Woodward was a regular contributor as a redshirt freshman last season with 29 tackles, 3.0 of them for loss, 1.0 sack and an interception. Here is the pick against New Mexico State:
The Aggies will undoubtedly continue to use Woodward in pass coverage this season.
Junior Tobeck played in all 13 games last season and picked up 28 tackles and 1.0 for loss and a forced fumble and will remain a key part of the defensive rotation. Meitzenheimer made 19 tackles as a redshirt freshman last year. Larsen could play either inside or outside depending on what is needed. The senior made 22 tackles, 2.5 tackles-for-loss and 1.0 sack last season. Latu is another senior and JC transfer out of Snow College who had 2.5 tackles for loss, 1.0 sack and a pick last year for the Aggies. Harris only saw limited action in three games last season, and Langi is a true freshman out of Bingham High School who will likely take a redshirt this season.1 comment on this story
Baron Gajkowski is moving from safety to linebacker this season after making 50 tackles, 2.5 of them for loss, 1.0 sack, a pick and a forced fumble to his credit. He's now in the same position group as his brother Mason Gajkowski, who earned his scholarship in fall camp last year. Mason's playing time was limited last year as he only saw the field in four games and made just one tackle.
Senior Compton made 11 tackles, 2.0 of them for loss and 1.0 sack last season after transferring in from Ellsworth Community College. Magalei also made an impact last season as a freshman with 2.5 sacks and a fumble recovery. And Hayes is a JC transfer from Mesa Community College who took a redshirt season last year.