Utah Utes football: Team making strides at spring practice

Published: Wednesday, March 17 2010 12:00 a.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — Before spring football kicked off last week, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham identified two key areas where development was needed: the wide receiver corps and the back seven on defense.

After four practices, including Tuesday's at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Whittingham said movement is being made.

"(We're) making progress," he explained. "But it's a work in progress. We've got to keep going."

On offense, Whittingham noted that it's more like "baby steps."

Frontline receivers Jereme Brooks, DeVonte Christopher and Luke Matthews have been solid. Whittingham, however, noted that the second group — made up of freshmen Sean Fitzgerald, Jamal Smith and Griffin McNabb — really "needs to come along."

Other receivers will join the mix this fall, including senior Shaky Smithson, who is recovering from offseason surgery. The newcomers feature signees Dres Anderson, Terrell Reese and Kenneth Scott.

Those in camp have benefitted by the installation of 90 percent of the offense thus far. Whittingham said it's Utah's philosophy to throw a lot of things at them early, work on it and then polish things up throughout the balance of camp.

The offense, he said, is further ahead than last year.

The receivers are following the lead of Brooks, the top returnee.

"He's the go-to guy. He is definitely the leader of the receivers and one of the leaders on offense," Whittingham said. "He's taken the leadership role very seriously, and he's doing a good job."

So, too, has senior Justin Taplin-Ross on defense. He's the only safety in camp with game-situation reps. Freshmen Chris Washington and Damian Payne join sophomore Bryce Bennion on the most recent depth chart.

"(Taplin-Ross) is having a good spring camp so far," Whittingham said. "It's early, but he's done a great job."

As is the case at receiver, more competition will arrive this fall.

The rest of the back seven, where junior cornerback Brandon Burton is the lone returning starter, is also making strides over the first four spring practices.

"It's progressing. We've got the linebackers who are a pretty stable group. They've got some experience there," Whittingham said. "The corners as well. They're doing a nice job."

EXTRA POINTS: The Utes will practice Thursday before shutting things down for spring break. The final 10 sessions of camp begin March 29. ... Junior linebacker Jamel King is sidelined this week with a broken hand. He and sophomore running back Victor Spikes, who injured his knee, are expected to be back on the field after spring break. ... Redshirt freshman Chris Washington, who currently tops the depth chart at free safety, banged up his shoulder and did not practice Tuesday.

e-mail: dirk@desnews.com

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