Johnson wants Utah to have aggressive attitude on offense
Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Utah offensive coordinator Brian Johnson is bringing more than just youth to the job. The 25-year-old plans to instill a new attitude in his first season at the helm.
"I think the first thing, obviously, that we need to do is create a culture where we have an aggressive mentality on offense," Johnson said. "I want us to be aggressive and confident in our approach each and every day."
Johnson, who is major college football's youngest offensive coordinator, begins his on-field tenure in the position Tuesday afternoon at Rice-Eccles Stadium when the Utes kick off spring ball.
Although he has a "vested interest" in all aspects of the offense, Johnson's primary focus will be on the position group he coaches — the quarterbacks.
Jordan Wynn, who played in only four games last season before being sidelined with a shoulder injury, is back. The junior opens camp on top of the depth chart.
"Jordan is our No. 1 quarterback going into spring. I think what he brings to the table, when he's healthy, is obviously something that will definitely help us contend for a Pac-12 championship," Johnson said. "He's obviously had some hard times here going through injury and things of that nature, but he's as tough as they get and I'm positive he'll find a way to bounce back."
Wynn, he added, is extremely healthy. The quarterback told espn.com last week that both of his surgically repaired shoulders "feel great" and that he's been throwing at 100 percent since January.
"Jordan busted his tail to get to this point," Johnson said. "He'll be ready to go."
Wynn headlines a cast of quarterbacks that includes senior Jon Hays and highly touted freshmen Travis Wilson and Chase Hansen. All of the players will be in camp and have already met as a group with Johnson.
"The two young guys are extremely talented and Jordan and Jon have played a bunch of football here for us and won a bunch of games," Johnson said. "So I think it's a real dynamic mix and I'm looking forward to see how this thing shakes out."
By the end of spring ball, Johnson would like to have a pecking order in place. Camp opens with Wilson and Hansen sharing the No. 2 spot behind Wynn and ahead of Hays, who made nine starts last season.
All four quarterbacks, though, will get opportunities this spring.
"Competition makes everybody better," Johnson said. "These guys will all learn from each other and work with each other to get better over the course of the spring."
Johnson said the quarterbacks will continue to compete as long as they are Utes.
"That's part of the mentality and the culture we want to create as an offense — be ultra-competitive in everything that we do," he explained. "Being a quarterback doesn't make you immune to having that drive to compete. Those guys understand that."
The learning curve, however, will be a little bit more steep for Hansen and Wilson. Johnson noted it's the reality of the situation. They've yet to play at this level and have a lot more to learn about it.
Even so, Hansen and Wilson are going to be in the mix this spring.
"We're going to throw both of them in there and see what happens," Johnson said. "Both of those guys are going to have a lot to learn. I love the physical tools and the mentality that they bring.
"Both of them, you can tell, are natural-born leaders. Guys kind of naturally just cling to them," he continued. "They have that edge back there that you look for. I'm extremely excited to work with both of those guys. They'll both get a ton of reps this spring and we'll see how it shakes out."
Johnson also had praise for Hays.
"He stepped into a pretty tough role and helped us fight back and finish the season really strong," Johnson said. "So I can't say enough about his physical and mental toughness that he had for us this past season."
Utah's quarterback situation may be secondary, however, to Johnson's new role in the eyes of fans this spring. The 2009 Sugar Bowl Most Outstanding Player isn't shying away from the challenges ahead.
"Obviously with any new position or promotion or new job, there's going to be some stuff that you obviously have to learn as you go. It's no different than any other job," Johnson said while acknowledging that being an offensive coordinator is a high-profile post.
"I'm excited for this opportunity. We have a great staff, like I've said. I think you can only be as good as the people around you and I can't say enough about the offensive staff that we have. Those guys are going to work extremely hard. They're all very bright and intelligent. I think it's a great dynamic that we have."
Despite his youth, Johnson said everybody has been very positive and extremely helpful — in and out of the program.
Johnson has kept in regular contact with former Utah quarterbacks coach Dan Mullen. He said he's learned a lot from the Mississippi State head coach.
"I've been able to pick his brain about a couple of things," Johnson noted.
EXTRA POINTS: Work on Utah's new $30 million football facility is under way. The old building on Guardsman Way is scheduled for demolition on March 27. ... Highly touted wide receiver Josh Gordon, a transfer from Baylor, left the Utah program in December and will not return. ... Running back Kelvin York, defensive end Hunter Dimick join Wilson and Hansen as recent signees participating in camp. ... Tight ends Kendrick Moeai (shoulder) and Dallin Rogers (knee), as well as defensive tackle LT Tuipulotu (knee), will be sidelined this spring while recovering from injuries. ... Notable position changes include Westlee Tonga (TE to DE), Keith McGill (S to CB), Thretton Palamo (RB to DE) and Joape Pela (OL to DL).
Utah spring football
All spring practices are scheduled for Rice-Eccles Stadium and are open to the public. However, in the event of inclement weather, practices sessions moved to the Spence Eccles Field House will be closed to the public because of space limitations.
Practice 1 — Tuesday, March 20, 3-5 p.m. (no pads)
Practice 2 — Thursday, March 22, 3-5 p.m. (no pads)
Practice 3 — Saturday, March 24, 10 a.m.-noon (tackle)
Practice 4 — Tuesday, March 27, 3-5 p.m. (tackle)
Practice 5 — Thursday, March 29, 3-5 p.m. (no tackle)
Practice 6 — Friday, March 30, 4-6 p.m. (tackle)
Practice 7 — Tuesday, April 3, 3-5 p.m. (tackle)
Practice 8 — Thursday, April 5, 3-5 p.m. (no tackle)
Practice 9 — Saturday, April 7, 10 a.m.-noon (scrimmage)
Practice 10 — Tuesday, April 10, 3-5 p.m. (tackle)
Practice 11 — Thursday, April 12, 3-5 p.m. (no tackle)
Practice 12 — Saturday, April 14, 10 a.m.-noon (scrimmage)
Practice 13 — Tuesday, April 17, 3-5 p.m. (tackle)
Practice 14 — Thursday, April 19, 3-5 p.m. (no pads)
Practice 15 — Saturday, April 21, 1 p.m. (Red-White Game)
NOTE: University parking regulations will be enforced.
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