During practice sessions, the media stands on the sidelines trying to get a glimpse of what is going on during drills. During one practice session last week, we stood there watching drills intently until our view was completely obstructed by a player running off the field and standing in front of us. Other players ran off without obstructing our view, but this player was very hard to see around.
The player was Matt Putnam, who at 6 feet 7 inches presents a lot of obstruction to those trying to see around him. Later on during the same practice session, Brendan Gaskins was flushed out of the pocket and tried to get the football to his outlet at running back.
As he was trying to get the ball to the running back, it was Matt Putnam dropping back in coverage, limiting Gaskins' view, and leaving the second-string quarterback unsure on how exactly to get his receiver the football. Gaskins then tried to lob the ball over Putnam, but Putnam reached up and snatched the ball out of the air with ease.
Indeed, Putnam presents a unique feature to the outside linebacker position. Simply stated, Putnam is very, very tall.
"Have you seen him? He's the biggest guy in Utah County," joked outside linebacker coach Barry Lamb. "There's his advantage right there. You can't see over him, you can't see around him, and he can just reach up and cover a lot of ground."
During Tuesday's practice, Putnam again was able to disrupt passes merely with his huge wingspan. On a curl route, Putnam reached up and just about knocked the pass down.
"Yeah, just today you saw Matt on that curl just reach up, and I thought he should have had it," said Lamb. "There‘s not many guys that could get to that pass at linebacker, but with his length I think he should have had it. That's his advantage right there. You drop him back in coverage and he can cover a ton of ground with his frame."
Putnam made the switch to outside linebacker from defensive end due to being too skinny and just a tad too tall. In a system that plays its defensive ends more like tackles, Putnam felt out of place.
"I was just too skinny and I really was out of place," said Putnam. "In the offseason coaches and I agreed that I could probably do more and help the team more playing linebacker, so I made the switch."
Putnam has a good frame of reference thanks to having an older brother, who, like Matt, was 6 feet 7 inches and made the switch from defensive end to linebacker. His brother made this switch while he was at Utah State.
"Yeah, I guess we're just too skinny to play defensive end in college," said Putnam with a laugh. "My brother switched to linebacker while he was in college, so I'm doing the same thing. So far I feel totally out of place, but it's coming."
"Matt is going to be fine," said Lamb about his new linebacker. "It's hard for a guy who is 6'7" to learn how to play the game low, and that is where the game is played. So that's a challenge, but Matt is a smart guy and he'll get it."
Fortunately, Putnam has a lot of time. Having redshirted last season, he has four years to develop in the system while learning how to use his unique set of skills to his advantage.
"Oh, he's going to help us out a lot in the future," said Lamb. "I'm very excited to help him develop during the next few years. Right now he's probably not ready, but fortunately he has time which we'll use to help get him ready because we feel that he can really help us at the position."
Along with staying low, Putnam is learning how to play in space and without initial contact coming at him on every down. At outside linebacker, Putnam is learning how to play in space, which is a challenge.
"I'm so used to guys immediately hitting me off the line and then going from there," said Putnam. "Now it's a total different deal. I have to read the play, drop back in coverage at times, and it's a lot different than playing on the line."
Along with taking up space in the flat with his large frame, Putnam also feels he can really help out in rushing the quarterback. At his height, Putnam should do well in knocking down passes along the line of scrimmage on outside rushes.
"Yeah, I know how to do that. I've been rushing the quarterback my whole career, so I'm comfortable there," said Putnam. "I'm quick off the edge and I move well straight ahead. Now it's just learning how to use my hips more and move better laterally."
Coach Lamb can readily see Putnam's potential during every day of practice. He can also see how raw Putnam is, but is excited that he won't be forced to use Putnam right off the bat while he's still learning the position.
"Being just a freshman is great for us and for him," said Lamb. "If I had to play him this year, then I'd be worried. But with what Matt has physically and with how coachable and how smart he is, I feel that Matt is really going to help us in time."
-Max Hall went 14-of-20 during 11-on-11s for 100 yards and a touchdown. Hall's touchdown came against the third-team secondary when Hall hit Dennis Pitta in the end zone from 3 yards out. Hall went 7-of-8 on the touchdown drive for a combined 69 yards.
-Cornerback Scott Johnson saw some drill work playing safety with the 1s on defense. In his place at boundary cornerback was Brandon Bradley. As the team went to 11-on-11 drills, Johnson again assumed his position at boundary cornerback with the 1s and Bradley played with the 2s. David Tafuna participated with the 1s during 11-on-11s for the first time this spring
-Receiver Luke Ashworth didn't practice for the second day in a row. Ashworth sustained a minor back injury and isn't expected back for at least a week. The injury is not believed to be serious.