Utah Utes football: Forget about last year, focus is on this year
Mike Terry, Deseret News
When Utah's football team opened camp Thursday at the practice fields, Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama" blared over loudspeakers as the players warmed up.
The toe-tapping reminder of their Sugar Bowl victory over the Crimson Tide, however, was about the only reminiscing the Utes did. They're focused on the task at hand.
Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham isn't worried about an encore to last season's 13-0 campaign.
It's time to start anew.
Each season, he explained, is a new entity, and final preparations for the next one are now under way.
"The team came out with a good mentality about them," Whittingham said after running his team through split sessions in helmets and shorts. "It was very apparent that we made a lot of progress this summer. A lot of things were a lot sharper going into this fall camp than they were coming out of spring ball."
The focal point, though, is at quarterback, where Corbin Louks, Terrance Cain and Jordan Wynn are competing to replace Brian Johnson as the starter.
And, as expected, the first day of camp failed to provide an answer.
"It's neck-and-neck," Whittingham said. "There's no separation. All three of them had good days today. We got off to a good start. All three are working hard. It's going to be interesting to see how this thing unfolds."
The competition, he acknowledged, will intensify when the players are allowed to don full pads next week.
"The first order of business, like I've said, is to get it down to two," Whittingham said while expressing hope that a decision can be made after next Thursday's scrimmage. "There's just not enough time in practice to get three guys ready, let alone two."
The coaching staff would like to name a starter at least one week before Utah's Sept. 3 season-opener against Utah State.
"We all bring something special," said Wynn, a true freshman.
The two other candidates are juniors.
"Everybody is trying to compete for that starting job, and I guess everybody's doing what they've got to do," said Cain, who was a junior college All-American last season in Texas. "It's just competition. We're all good buddies."
The competition, though, is keen.
Louks, who was Johnson's backup last season, is determined to inherit the top spot.
"It's my job," Louks said. "Someone's got to take it from me if I'm going to lose it. I'm not going to lose it. Someone's got to take it."
In the meantime, he's determined not to dwell on the situation.
"I'm kind of zoning that out right now," Louks said. "My job right now is to improve my game, improve the offense and to get the team ready to play Utah State. That's what I'm going to do."
All of the quarterbacks are getting used to a tweaked scheme under new offensive coordinator Dave Schramm. The players worked hard to get more familiar with things over the summer.
"We've added some different things to the offense," Louks said. "We've cleaned a lot of stuff up. Everybody feels more comfortable now with the offense that we've been working on. It's a lot cleaner, I feel like so far, but we've still got a lot of work to do."
Even so, there were plenty of smiles on the first day of camp. The linebacking corps drew a lot of attention with their bleached blond hair, something they did as a show of unity.
"I think we had a really good day," said senior Stevenson Sylvester, who is sporting a blond mohawk haircut. "We've still got some kinks we've got to work out before Sept. 3. But I feel like we're going to be ready."
Even though the NCAA's acclimatization period limits contact for a couple of days, the players expressed excitement to be back on the field again.
"I'm always excited to be back out here," said senior safety Robert Johnson, who playfully tried to get in the background of television interviews involving his teammates. "It took a long time, but now it's here."
"I've been waiting for this day for a while now," Louks said. "It's definitely great to be out there. Guys have been having a lot of fun."
Utah camp report
Day 1: The Utes opened camp Thursday morning with 90-minute split sessions in helmets and shorts. Players were rotated between the practice field and weight room.
Standouts: Quarterbacks Corbin Louks, Terrance Cain and Jordan Wynn all had good days, according to head coach Kyle Whittingham.
Injuries: Nothing significant.
Next: The Utes are scheduled to have split sessions for the second consecutive day as they progress through the NCAA's acclimatization period.
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