Utah quarterback Brian Johnson has a long list of things to do this spring. The senior is determined to become an even greater student of the game and work on the little details it takes to help win games. He's also dedicated to giving proper treatment to his throwing shoulder — an injury suffered in last year's season opener at Oregon State.

Johnson wound up playing in 11 games in 2007 but needed arthroscopic surgery in the offseason to clean out scar tissue. He considers himself 85 percent healthy as the Utes wrapped the first third of 15 spring practices.

"I'll be 100 percent by the time the season starts," said Johnson. "It's a long process."

Even so, he's committed to spending whatever time it takes in rehab and the training room to get it done.

"It's definitely frustrating. But that's part of football. You've got to find a way to work your way back through it and put yourself in a position to be healthy by the fall," said Johnson, who missed the entire 2006 campaign while recovering from a serious knee injury. "That's my main focus. I want to be healthy for fall."

Johnson is participating in spring ball — albeit at a conservative pace.

"Brian's feeling better every day. He's throwing at about 70 percent, but it's pain-free. We just don't want to wear him out," said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. "We're just going to keep gradually working him back in. Hopefully, by the end of spring he'll be 100 percent."

Johnson, he explained, didn't throw much at all over winter conditioning and is a bit rusty in that regard. However, Whittingham noted that Johnson is "a confident kid and very positive."

When asked if any individuals stood out in Saturday's practice, Whittingham mentioned Johnson first and said the quarterback looked "pretty sharp."

Despite leading the Utes to eight wins in his 10 starts last season, including an offensive MVP performance in the Poinsettia Bowl victory over Navy, Johnson wasn't satisfied. His statistical output was down sharply from 2005 — due in large part to his injury and the alteration of the playbook to keep him healthy. As a junior, the Texan threw for 1,055 fewer yards and ran for 328 less yards than he did as a sophomore.

"I'm not pleased at all with the way I played last season. Unfortunately we had some circumstances that were a little bit out of my control," said Johnson. "It is what it is, and I have to make the most of it. So I'm looking forward to this year."

Winning the Mountain West Conference championship isn't his only priority.

"I want to play well my senior year," said Johnson. "And make sure that we end this thing right."

17 comments on this story EXTRA POINTS: While junior Tyler Williams recovers from a shoulder injury, the coaching staff has moved sophomore Daniel Bukarau up the depth chart. He'll enter next week's practices as the No. 2 center behind sophomore Zane Taylor. The Utes also plan to give some reps to sophomore Neli A'asa, just in case Williams is out for an extended period of time ... More word on Utah's new football agreement with UnderArmour, which includes uniforms, is expected next week when the deal is finalized ... Saturday's practice was moved indoors because poor weather was forecasted. It didn't rain or snow, but it was unseasonably cold outside during the early morning session.


E-mail: dirk@desnews.com