Utah Utes football: 'Upped' talent level apparent on first day
Tom Smart, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Utah coach Kyle Whittingham admits he was very excited to get preseason camp started. More so, he added, than in a lot of years.
The reason why may have been revealed in Thursday's opening session at Ute Field.
Whittingham called it a good day and noted that it's very apparent that the most recent recruiting class, as a whole, is going to help the Utes out — either this year or in the very near future.
"I don't want to single anybody out," Whittingham said. "But there's no doubt that we've upped our talent level."
Newcomers are helping alleviate concerns about finding new starting tackles and building more depth on the offensive line.
"We added four or five bodies there and that group is looking like it is supposed to look for a Pac-12 offensive line," Whittingham said while noting that the competition for playing time will be highly contested throughout camp.
Job one, though, is finding replacements for graduated all-conference tackles Tony Bergstrom and John Cullen.
Percy Taumoelau, a junior, and senior Miles Mason top the depth chart as practices get under way.
The opening of camp, as expected, was well received by the Utes. Senior defensive tackle Star Lotulelei said that's always the case.
"We've been working real hard as a team in the offseason — running and lifting," Lotulelei explained. "So it feels real good to finally put on the jersey, put on the helmet, come out here, play football, run around and have fun."
Quarterback Jordan Wynn had similar thoughts. The junior is confident a very productive summer will translate to camp. He liked the mindset the team had on the first day.
After enduring three shoulder surgeries since 2010, Wynn was especially pleased to be out on the field. He has never felt better physically.
"It's been a rough two years but I've come out of it. I've rehabbed, I've worked out, I've added weight, I've gotten stronger," Wynn said. "So I feel like I've done pretty much all I can. Now, it's just a matter of going out and doing it."
Freshman quarterback Chase Hansen, however, wasn't able to do the same on opening day. The former Lone Peak High School star is sidelined with a sore shoulder. Whittingham said Hansen is being held out of practice for precautionary reasons while his throwing shoulder is evaluated.
"We'd like to get him going but the first priority is getting the shoulder taken care of," said Whittingham, who is hopeful the best course of action to take medically will be determined in the next couple of days.
It's possible that the highly touted Hansen may not play before departing on an LDS Church mission in late December or early January.
"We'll see what happens," Whittingham said. "We'll try to make the best of the situation regardless of which way it goes."
Sophomore defensive end Nate Fakahafua, a projected starter, also didn't practice on the first day. Whittingham said he was working through "some family and personal things" and is expected to rejoin the team on Monday.
Other than that, Whittingham said the Utes reported to camp in full force and everything unfolded as anticipated with no bad surprises.
Utah opens the season Aug. 30 at home against Northern Colorado.
UTAH CAMP REPORT
Day 1: Utah kicked things off with a two-hour practice Thursday morning at Ute Field.
Standouts: Head coach Kyle Whittingham declined to single out any individuals, but praised the efforts of the 2012 recruiting class in the first practice.
Injuries: Freshman quarterback Chase Hansen is sidelined with a sore shoulder. His status will be evaluated over the next couple of days before a course of action is determined.
Overheard: "The anticipation of this fall camp has been brewing inside me for quite some time now." — Kyle Whittingham
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