Young wideouts shine at first USU practice
Granted, they weren’t playing in pads and didn’t have to worry about getting lit up by a defensive back, but a pair of young wide receivers caught the attention of Utah State head football head Matt Wells during the first practice of fall camp.
Redshirt freshman Gerold Bright and true freshman Rayshad Lewis shined Friday afternoon at the USU practice field, which is located adjacent to the Stan Laub Indoor Training Center. Bright, who rushed for 1,520 yards and 21 touchdowns as a prep senior in Florida, had three receptions for 45 yards during an 11-on-11 session and had four more catches during one-on-one drills.
“Well, I’ll tell you the two guys that caught my eye offensively were two receivers, Gerold Bright and Rayshad Lewis,” Wells said. “They made some really good plays and caught the ball outside of their body, and that was the first thing that flashed. I’m going to see five more things (that stood out) when I watch the tape.”
Lewis, the son of former NFL star linebacker Ray Lewis, was impressive during one-on-one battles against the defensive backs. No. 9 routinely created a significant amount of separation during those drills, which did not go unnoticed by starting quarterback Kent Myers.
“He was going against our best safety, and he was putting some moves on him, so as a freshman and him doing that against a veteran safety, I think that’s big time,” Myers said.
In all fairness, though, USU’s secondary made plenty of nice plays during the practice. Junior cornerback Jalen Davis, a two-year returning starter, deftly picked off a pass during one-on-one drills and added four tackles and a pass breakup during 11-on-11 scenarios.
Junior safety Dallin Leavitt also showed his mettle as he had at least one interception during one-on-one battles and pulled down an acrobatic INT during 11-on-11 action.
“I thought it was a nice pick by Dallin Leavitt way over here,” Wells said. “And that is hopefully a ball we don’t choose to throw in the future, but a good job by Dallin making a play.”
The BYU transfer is projected to be one of the Mountain West’s top safeties in most major preseason publications.
“It felt good just being able to get my hands on the ball and I think that’s the biggest thing I’ve tried to focus on is turnovers,” Leavitt said of his picks. “You know, the more times we have the ball, the more opportunities we have to score and the better chance we have of winning.”
True freshman cornerback Makiah Gilmer made an nice read on a pass during one-on-one drills and would have returned his interception for a TD had that been the objective.
There were 105 players dressed in helmets, practice jerseys and shorts for Friday’s two-hour practice — the first of 26 during fall camp, which ends Aug. 27. One of those players was inside receiver Andrew Rodriguez, much to the delight of Wells.
Rodriguez, who finished tied for second on the team with 27 receptions a season ago, was injured on the very first play of the very first scrimmage during spring camp. No. 82 did not get to play the rest of the scrimmage and the rest of the spring.
“It was scary,” Rodriguez admitted. “It was one of those deals where I was just hoping (for nothing major). I’ve had injuries in the past, but I don’t think I’ve had one that serious. … But I’m glad that I’m back and I’m glad that I have the opportunity to play again.”
It ended up being a sprained left knee. There was some ligament damage, but it was “very microscopic,” Rodriguez said, and didn’t require any surgery, “just a lot of rehab.”
Rodriguez, who took back a punt to the house against Southern Utah in USU’s 2015 season opener, is projected to be a first-team all-Mountain West selection as a punt returner by two major preseason publications.
“When you think about that injury that first play of that first (spring) scrimmage and how bad it looked, he’s come a long ways,” Wells said. “And I thought he looked pretty good today.”
Another receiver who showcased his ability during Friday’s practice was Braelon Roberts, who led the Aggies with eight catches during all drills.
All in all, it was an encouraging start to fall camp, Wells asserted.
“We had good energy and good attention to detail, I thought, for the first day, which is what I expected,” he said. “We didn’t take the field very well at the end of practice for the last 10 minutes of the (11-on-11) drill, but we’ll get that fixed.”
The Aggies will practice again in shorts and helmets this afternoon, and then add shoulder pads on Monday and Tuesday. USU’s first practice in full pads will be next Wednesday.
Today’s workout is scheduled to begin at 2:15 p.m. at the practice field. All practices before Aug. 22 are open to the public.
Recruiting local talent
When Gary Andersen was named USU’s head coach prior to the 2009 campaign, he made a much more concerted effort to keep Cache Valley’s top high school players in Logan. Only a handful of local kids competed for the Aggies during most seasons in the decade before Andersen arrived.
Andersen’s recruiting vision has also been implemented by Wells. Case in point: There are currently 13 local players on the Aggies’ roster, including at least two from Logan, Mountain Crest and Sky View.
There are an impressive nine former Grizzlies on the roster, which is more than any other school.
“There are a lot of good Cache Valley kids here and, you know, our recruiting philosophy is first of all start in the state of Utah and start right here in Cache Valley, and then expand out,” Wells said. “And these Cache Valley kids, they have a different investment, a lot of them, because they’ve grown up here in the valley and have been coming to Aggie games before the stadium has been renamed and remodeled, and all of that stuff.”
Those 13 local players are linebacker Chasen Andersen (Logan), linebacker Alex Huerta (Mountain Crest), QB DJ Nelson (Logan), WR Chad Artist (Logan), WR Hartman Rector (Logan), safety Gaje Ferguson (Mountain Crest), kicker Jake Thompson (Logan), LB/defensive end Troy Murray (Logan), LB Derek Larsen (Logan), kicker Brock Warren (Sky View), DE Jacoby Wildman (Logan), DE Caden Andersen (Logan) and DE Jake Pitcher (Sky View).