Utah Utes football notebook: NFL player Robert Johnson returns to speak with the Utes

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 14 2012 8:24 a.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — A blast from Utah’s past spoke to the Utes after practice Tuesday. Tennessee Titans safety Robert Johnson returned to his alma mater to offer encouragement and show his support.

“The season’s a little bit rough but it’s not over,” Johnson said in his remarks to the team. “We need them to play as good as we were playing. They have the talent. They have the players. They have the same coaching staff.”

Johnson, who concluded his Utah career in 2009, added that the Utes just need to perform and become bowl eligible over the next two weeks.

“They need to have fun,” he said. “The best way to have fun is going bowling. That’s the best way.”

Senior wide receiver Reggie Dunn noted that Johnson told them to play with swagger and confidence.

“It was really inspiring to hear from a former player that’s in the NFL,” Dunn said. “For him to be able to come back and talk to us was great.”

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham also appreciated Johnson’s return to Utah during his NFL bye week.

“It was great. It’s always good to have the former players come around, and we’ve had a lot of them this year,” Whittingham said. “I think that speaks well of the program. We enjoy having him around, the players enjoy having him around. So it’s a positive thing for that.”

DEVONTE ON DEFENSE: Senior wide receiver DeVonte Christopher, who has seen limited action in recent weeks, was taking reps at safety in practice as the Utes prepare to face Arizona.

“He’s got a lot of athletic ability and we’re a little thin in the back end. We have been all year and maybe we should have taken a look at that sooner,” Whittingham said. “But for a game like this one, where it's all spread and four wides, you’re going to need a lot of secondary guys, and we’ll see if he can help us back there.”

Christopher, meanwhile, is also making strides to get back in the receiving rotation. Whittingham said the team’s top receiver the past two seasons has done a nice job in practice Monday and Tuesday.

Whittingham, however, wouldn’t say if Christopher could see playing time on both sides of the ball against the Wildcats.

“We’ll see,” he said. “It’s too early in the week to make that determination.”

EXTRA POINTS: The Utes practiced at Rice-Eccles Stadium instead of the indoor facility. … John White has moved into a tie with Del “Popcorn” Rodgers and Eddie Johnson for the most 100-yard rushing games in Utah history with 12. … Utah is the national co-leader in fumbles returned for touchdowns (3) and second in total forced fumbles (18).

Email: dirk@desnews.com

Twitter: @DirkFacer

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