Utah Utes football: Utes set to open spring drills

Published: Monday, March 8 2010 12:00 a.m. MST

University of Utah head football coach Kyle Whittingham back at work in his office Monday.

Stuart Johnson, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah coach Kyle Whittingham insists it's been a typical offseason, a little drama here and a little drama there.

Apparently it takes more than a lucrative offer from Tennessee to alter his view of things.

"It was very standard this year," said Whittingham, who is preparing for his sixth spring camp as head coach of the Utes. "I'm looking forward to getting back out on the field and working with this new group of guys."

Offers for other opportunities, he added, tend to come and go every year.

"I've got a great job here and I'm excited to get back out on the field," Whittingham said. "That's what we do, coach football. It's going to be good to get back out with these guys."

The Utes open spring ball with a two-hour practice today. It's the first of five sessions over a nine-day span before spring break. Camp resumes March 29 and concludes with the annual Red-White Game on April 17. Scrimmages are set for April 2 and 10.

Whittingham said the players have had a very good attitude throughout winter conditioning.

"It's another hard-working group of players that we have," he explained. "I think we've got a lot of talented players. We're short on experience at some positions, but that's the nature of the game. Everyone in the country deals with that in one extent or another.

"So it's up to us as a coaching staff to develop those young guys, and it starts this spring," Whittingham continued. "We've got to get ready to compete for a championship."

The Utes enter spring ball with distinct priorities.

On offense, Whittingham said job No. 1 is to develop young receivers "that have to be ready to play for us."

Senior Jereme Brooks is the only returning starter. Thus, young receivers like DeVonte Christopher, Luke Matthews, Jamal Smith and Sean Fitzgerald need to step up.

Whittingham said the same goes for six new starters in the back seven on defense.

"The linebacking corps is obviously a top priority," he noted.

The Utes must replace the starting trio of Stevenson Sylvester, Mike Wright and Kepa Gaison. Early frontrunners include Nai Fotu in the middle, Chad Manis at stud and J.J. Williams at rover.

Junior cornerback Brandon Burton is the only returning starter in the secondary. Seniors Lamar Chapman and Kamaron Yancy are battling for the other spot. Whittingham said junior Conroy Black "needs to be ready to go" as well.

At safety, Utah is searching for two new starters. Senior Justin Taplin-Ross has the most experience of any returnee. Freshmen Chris Washington and Damian Payne top the depth chart at free safety, while sophomore Victor Spikes is behind Taplin-Ross at strong safety.

Although addressing immediate needs at receiver and in the back of the defense headline Utah's things-to-do list this spring, other battles will take place.

"We never go into a season or into camp with anybody in mind to redshirt," Whittingham said. "We just let them compete and see how the cards fall."

Everyone, he noted, has the opportunity to earn playing time.

"It's competition at every position, every year," Whittingham said. "That's just how we operate."

And speaking of operating, the Utes will do so with a revamped coaching staff. Former star Brian Johnson is the team's new quarterbacks coach.

"We're excited to have Brian on our staff," Whittingham said. "He's a very positive addition."

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