Utah Utes football: Kyle Whittingham says spring practice is 'all about us'
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Utah coach Kyle Whittingham has made it clear. When the Utes open spring practice today, they won't be focusing on upcoming membership in the Pac-12. Nor, he added, will anything else detour their attention.
"Spring ball is all about us," Whittingham said. "We're not concerned with other teams or what other teams are doing schematically."
In the past, however, Utah did dedicate some time to defending Air Force's triple-option attack.
Switching conferences has changed all that.
"With that no longer in the picture for us, it's all about getting our offense installed and becoming a more fundamentally, technique-sound football team at all positions," Whittingham said. "That is really what the main thrust of spring is, fundamentals and technique and making sure that we're improving — that each player individually is improving."
The quest to get better begins with practice this afternoon. It's the first of 15 spring sessions.
"We've got three or four things that are the most pressing issues," Whittingham said before reeling off a list of things to get done.
Priority No. 1, he explained, is getting newly hired offensive coordinator Norm Chow's "new wrinkles" in the offense installed. That includes getting all the repetitions needed to pick up the new concepts and such in the multiple offensive scheme.
Other areas of immediate concern for Whittingham include establishing a depth chart at running back and in the secondary.
"We have a lot of new faces there, so we've got to get that defined," Whittingham said.
At running back, the Utes must replace co-starters Matt Asiata and Eddie Wide, as well as Sausan Shakerin.
Converted wide receiver Luke Matthews opens spring on top of the depth chart. Highly touted junior college transfer John White and former Bingham High standout Harvey Langi are also considered frontrunners. Thretton Palamo and Beau Burton are also in the mix.
"We've got a whole new look at running back," Whittingham said. "So getting the running back depth chart established will be a focal point."
Same goes for the secondary, where the Utes are depleted of starters. Cornerbacks Brandon Burton (NFL) and Lamar Chapman (graduation) are gone. So, too, are safeties Justin Taplin-Ross (graduation) and Brian Blechen (moved to linebacker).
"That's going to be the main focal point on defense — to get the secondary depth chart and people positioned where we need them to be," Whittingham said.
The projected spring depth chart lists Ryan Lacy and Conroy Black as the starting cornerbacks with Damian Payne and Michael Walker in the safety spots.
Another position of intrigue is quarterback. With projected starter Jordan Wynn sidelined after shoulder surgery, sophomore Griff Robles and freshman Tyler Shreve are going to get a lot of work this spring.
"It's not ideal, but it is what it is. We've got to deal with it," Whittingham said. "The bright side is Griff Robles and Tyler Shreve will get all the reps and we expect them both to make a lot of progress this spring and take advantage of the opportunity they're getting."
Wynn, meanwhile, will be close at hand.
"Jordan is going to be at every practice. He'll be able to do everything but throw the football. We'll be able to put him in some of the run drills," Whittingham said. "So he's going to be able to get a lot of reps at certain things. But, obviously, not being able to throw is the big downside. But we'll just have to deal with it."
Wynn, he added, will be kept out of harm's way this spring. The junior's recovery is right on schedule and he has had no setbacks whatsoever. If things to continue to progress, Whittingham said Wynn will be ready to throw in June when players report for summer workouts.
Question is, will he retain the top spot?
Nobody's job is set in stone. But Jordan's the guy that obviously has the most experience," Whittingham said. "But we'll how these two (Robles, Shreve) react in spring ball and we'll carry the competition into the fall. But, yeah, as of right now, Jordan us the guy until he's beaten out."
Competition is expected to be keen over the spring practices. Whittingham said nothing will change along those lines as Utah prepares for its first season in the Pac-12.
"We don't treat things any differently," he explained. "We've got our routine and the way we go about our business. It hasn't changed."
As always, Whittingham and company are just eager to get back out on the field.
"This is the first step in getting ready for the season," he said.
And despite staff changes that include a reshuffling of the deck and the hiring of offensive coordinator Norm Chow, offensive line coach Tim Davis and defensive line coach Chad Kauha'aha'a, little has changed in terms of preparation.
"It's not radically different than any other spring," Whittingham said. "You go into spring with a laundry list of things that you've got to get done, and this spring is really no different."
EXTRA POINTS: Whittingham confirmed that Brian Blechen is the projected starter at stud linebacker alongside Chaz Walker (middle) and Matt Martinez (rover). Senior J.J. Williams could also be in the rotation this fall. He had successful surgery on his foot and is expected to be ready for summer conditioning. … Whittingham said that senior linebacker Nai Fotu, who was suspended indefinitely last month following a suspected DUI arrest, can work his way back onto the team if certain requirements are met. … Junior Dave Kruger will be tested at five-technique end in spring ball. Other moves include Boo Andersen (LB to RB), Eric Dago (LB to DE), Tyron Morris-Edwards (WR to DB), Lucky Radley (RB to DB) and Trevor Reilly (DE to LB).
2011 Utah football spring schedule
All practices, scrimmages and the Red-White Game are open to the public free of charge
Date. . .Time. . .Location
Tuesday 3-5 p.m. (no pads) Field House
Thursday 3-5 p.m. (no pads) Stadium
Saturday 10 a.m.-noon (tackle) Stadium
March 15 3-5 p.m. (no tackle) TBD
March 17 3-5 p.m. (tackle) TBD
March 28 3-5 p.m. (tackle) TBD
March 30 3-5 p.m. (no tackle) TBD
April 1 4-6 p.m. (scrimmage) Stadium
April 5 3-5 p.m. (tackle) TBD
April 7 3-5 p.m. (no tackle) TBD
April 9 10 a.m.-noon (scrimmage) Stadium
April 12 3-5 p.m.(tackle) TBD
April 14 3-5 p.m. (no tackle) TBD
April 15 4:30-5:30 p.m. (no pads) TBD
April 16 1 p.m. (Red-White Game) Stadium
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