Utah State's football team held its eighth practice of the 2018 season Friday afternoon, and the Aggie defensive backs are emphasizing communication and trying to understand what opposing offenses are trying to do as the season opener is just three weeks away.

Utah State returns a plethora of talent and depth in the back end of its defense for the 2018 season. In all, Utah State welcomes back nine returning letterwinners in the secondary from last season who have combined to play in 166 games with 45 starts during their careers.

“We have a lot of young talent, so for those guys it is getting used to practicing every day and stacking success,” said defensive backs coach Julius Brown. “It is a very competitive group, and I’ve been happy with how they have been competing. I think the sky is the limit in terms of talent; now it is just progressing and making strides and continuing to get used to playing Division I football.”

Among those nine returning letterwinners here are three starters in senior S Gaje Ferguson, junior CB Cameron Haney and sophomore S Ja’Marcus Ingram. Ferguson, who finished the 2017 season third on the team with 90 tackles, is the most experienced player in the secondary returning for USU as he has started 16 games in his two years in the program and played in 21.

During his career, Ferguson has 124 career tackles, which ranks first overall on the team. Haney has played in 24 career games and made nine starts, and Ingram started 10 of the 13 games he played in last season as a redshirt freshman. Ingram had 42 tackles and five pass breakups last season, while Haney recorded 31 tackles and had six pass breakups. For his career, Haney has 47 tackles and nine pass breakups.

“I like where we are at as a defense,” said Ferguson. “With as many returning guys as we have back, and the maturity on this side of the ball, we’ve been able to pick up right where we left off last spring. It just seems like everything is clicking. We are really competitive, and there is talent all across the board at every spot and everyone is fighting for a position and we are deep, so I think a week into camp we are looking pretty good.”

In addition to the three returning starters mentioned above, six more letterwinners return here in senior CB Deante Fortenberry, senior S Jontrell Rocquemore, senior S Aaron Wade, junior S Chance Parker, sophomore S Baron Gajkowski and sophomore S Braxton Gunther.

Rocquemore and Wade have the most game experience for Utah State in the secondary as both players have played in 30 games, with Rocquemore starting six contests and Wade two. Furthermore, Rocquemore has 79 career tackles, while adding two interceptions, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and two career touchdowns.

Gajkowski posted 50 tackles last year as a redshirt freshman, playing in all 13 games with two starts. Fortenberry had 20 tackles last season, which included 3.0 sacks and 4.0 tackles for loss, as he played in 12 games

The Aggies also return five redshirts here in sophomore S Jordan Hayes, freshman CB Andre Grayson, freshman CB Jarrod Green, freshman CB Zahodri Jackson and freshman S Chase Nelson. Additionally, USU returns sophomore S Zach Swenson, who missed the 2017 season due to injury.

Furthermore, Utah State added five players to the secondary this offseason in junior transfer DJ Williams, sophomore transfer Shaq Bond and incoming freshmen Michael Anyanwu, Chance Lovato and Christian Nash.

Williams highlights this group of newcomers after earning National Junior College Athletic Association first-team All-America honors last season at Independence Community College.

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Friday was the eighth of 24 practices for the Aggies leading up to their season-opening game at Michigan State on Friday, Aug. 31, at 5 p.m. MT, in a game that will be nationally televised on the Big Ten Network. Utah State then begins its home season the following weekend against New Mexico State on Saturday, Sept. 8, at 6 p.m., in a game that will be streamed live on Facebook. Mountain West play begins two weeks later as USU hosts Air Force on Saturday, Sept. 22, in a game that will be televised nationally on one of the ESPN Networks.

Utah State's first two scrimmages are closed to the public, but fans are invited to its last scrimmage as part of Football Family Fun Day at Merlin Olsen Field at Maverik Stadium on Saturday, Aug. 18, at 2 p.m.