Utah State wrapped up its first week of spring football practice by donning pads for the first time Thursday afternoon.
And the players were extremely glad about it.
“It was nice,” wide receiver Shaan Johnson said. “The offense came out hard, ready to practice and then the defense came out with some intensity. First day in full pads went pretty well.”
First-year USU head coach Matt Wells agreed.
“A lot of juice, which was to be expected,” Wells said. “I thought it was good, it was clean, it was crisp. They did a nice job of taking care of each other and I thought it was good, solid work.
“Not to single anybody out, but the O-line from a group standpoint did a really nice job with the inside run period. ... Chuckie (Keeton) did a nice job keeping his eyes up and we made some plays. We had some breakdowns in the back end, so that’s a negative giving up big plays. ... Overall, I thought it was good, it was clean, but that’s what I expected. This is a veteran group, so I expected that.”
Wells called out his wide receivers following Wednesday’s practice, and that group seemed to respond a day later.
“I thought they all stepped up and we have to,” Wells said. “That’s a group that has to do everything right. They have to be good at the top end of the route, they have to make catches and they have to body guys up. Today was a much better day for the wideouts.”
The 6-foot-1, 196-pounder caught at least six passes during various scrimmage drills.
“As receivers, we always make plays and that’s one of our main goals,” Johnson said. “Just as a whole offense, come together and make big plays.
“... Our expectations are high, so when we have that chance to make a catch and make a big play, we take advantage of it.”
Bruce “Jojo” Natson and Travis Reynolds were two other Aggies who took advantage of opportunities Thursday at the Laub Indoor Training Center.
Keeton found Natson deep down the middle on one play, while Reynolds proved to be solid in the pass catching department.
But what Wells wants from the wide receiver corps, and the rest of the team for that matter, is consistency on a daily basis.
“It’s got to be crisp and clean every single day, that’s how you develop consistency,” Wells said. “To me, that’s how you develop confidence to go do that on Saturday because Saturday is a reflection of what you’ve done all week, what you’ve done all training camp and then backed up what you did all spring.”
Running back Joe Hill looked good during the first two practices this week, but that was without pads.
Nothing changed for Hill on Thursday.
“Our offense took a step forward today,” Johnson said. “The defense did the same, as well. The first week we came out ready to practice, so we’re looking to continue that next week and the weeks going forward.”
Johnson has missed a lot of time on the field during his career at USU. He redshirted in 2010 and in 2011, the native of Cerritos, Calif., did not see any action.
As a sophomore in 2012, Johnson did not record any receiving stats, but he has learned a lot as an Aggie playing behind guys like Matt Austin and Chuck Jacobs.
“You just sit back and watch, and you really do learn a lot from guys that are (trying to go) to the next level and who have that chance. It’s nice to have been behind them.”
On the other side of the ball Thursday, cornerback Rashard Stewart recorded an interception to highlight the Aggies on defense.
“I was just on the sideline and told (my teammates), ‘Let’s slow down, let’s take it play by play and somebody make a big play,’” Johnson said. “That play came to me and I just made it.”
USU will return to the practice field Monday morning at 6:15. They will again practice three times next week, highlighted by a scrimmage slated for Thursday afternoon.
“The key to spring is trying to take your guys that have been there and done that, to tighten them down and work on a technique or a skill, or something, to improve their game,” Wells said. “Then it’s the kids coming off redshirts or in backup positions, to find out if they can do it over an extended amount of time. Can they be a contributor? Can they challenge for a spot? It’s always a good mix in spring.”