<em>This is the eighth in a series previewing the 2017 Utah State football team’s position groups. The others can be found at the following links: <a href=”http://www.cachevalleydaily.com/sports/article_145805d4-8dca-11e7-b2f4-136747481af1.html” target=”_blank”>Special teams</a>, <a href=”http://www.cachevalleydaily.com/sports/article_f215fc18-8c3b-11e7-a48c-cb6d7fa2fe09.html” target=”_blank”>Defensive line</a>, <a href=”http://www.cachevalleydaily.com/sports/article_30eb12c6-8786-11e7-aa63-0f091dd2d683.html” target=”_blank”>Offensive line</a>, <a href=”http://www.cachevalleydaily.com/sports/article_9393f23a-884e-11e7-857a-c7dae436ad41.html” target=”_blank”>Defensive backs</a>, <a href=”http://www.cachevalleydaily.com/sports/article_644a94d2-8913-11e7-9a22-9fcb1ade0158.html” target=”_blank”>Quarterbacks</a>, <a href=”http://www.cachevalleydaily.com/sports/usu/article_a8a3a886-89e4-11e7-87bc-c7c82ea54a82.html” target=”_blank”>Wide receivers</a>, <a href=”http://www.cachevalleydaily.com/sports/article_e740e3a0-8922-11e7-8ada-e310f0f3d2fb.html” target=”_blank”>Running backs</a>.</em>
LOGAN – As is the case with other position groups on the Utah State football team this year, the linebackers are a mix some returners with a lot of newcomers. Head coach Matt Wells said guys were brought in during the offseason that will make the group an athletic upgrade from a season ago.
“We look more like what we should look like at linebacker,” he said. “Those guys are big and they’re physical, and the biggest thing is that they can run.”
Junior Derek Larsen and senior Alex Huerta are the two returning starters from a season ago, but neither were listed as starters when the first official depth chart was released earlier this week. Those roles appear to be filled by sophomore Justus Te’i, junior Chase Christiansen and junior college transfers Suli Tamaivena and Louy Compton.
Wells predicted back in April that Compton and Tamaivena would be able to come in and “compete immediately,” saying the two are “tremendous pass rushers.” Senior cornerback Jalen Davis singled out Te’i and Christiansen as two linebackers that separated themselves during the offseason.
“Justus Te’i and Chase Christiansen are stepping up,” he said. “All the linebackers are on point. They know the defense like the back of their hand. They know everything to it.”
Tamaivena and Christiansen will play the inside spots and will be backed up by redshirt freshman Kevin Meitzenheimer and Snow College transfer Ofa Latu. Compton and Te’i, who will play outside, will be backed up by sophomore Dalton Baker, who played in eight games as a freshman, and Larsen, who started seven games and played in all 12 a season ago.
Freshman Maika Magalei was listed by Wells as someone that brings added athleticism to the team. So was redshirt freshman David Woodward.
“He’ll have a chance to play some nickel when we want to go bigger nickel,” Wells said of Woodward.
Other guys with experience include sophomore Mason Tobeck, senior Patrick Lee Miranda and Huerta, who has the most experience with 24 games played. Junior Chasen Andersen has played in 13 games before missing last season due to injury.
Braden Harris and Mason Gajkowski are a pair of sophomores that haven’t played yet, but could see time.
Players that could see their first playing time at USU include former BYU rugby player Sialao Mobley, freshman Jamaal Evans and sophomores Braden Harris and Mason Gajkowski.