Utes Football: Utah opens the Erickson era at first day of spring training

Published: Tuesday, March 19 2013 9:45 p.m. MDT

University of Utah quarterback Brandon Cox runs during practice on the opening day of spring football in Salt Lake City Tuesday, March 19, 2013.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s first spring football practice kicked off a new era for the Utes. Two-time national championship coach Dennis Erickson made his on-field debut as the program’s co-offensive coordinator with Brian Johnson.

“It was fun. These guys work really hard,” said Erickson, who said that the offense is implementing some of the things the Utes ran four or five years ago — a little more option, plus a lot of no huddle. “It’s not anything new, no rocket science here.”

Getting organized, learning the terminology and getting from point A to point B to point C offensively, he added, is the priority this spring.

“We’re using everything the same. We’re just using a little bit different philosophy,” Erickson said. “We’ll get to a pretty good point at the end of spring football.”

Head coach Kyle Whittingham was also optimistic after the first day of camp.

“The players were very eager, very willing,” Whittingham said. “A great tempo throughout practice, which is what you’re looking for.”

As for the offense, Whittingham said that it is apparent that starting quarterback Travis Wilson’s arm is much stronger than last year. He also said that true freshman Brandon Cox showed signs of doing some real good things.

Johnson said getting the quarterbacks going and playing at a high level is of the utmost importance. Sophomore Adam Schulz is also on the spring depth chart.

“We’re excited. This is as excited as I’ve been to get out here for a day of practice in a really long time,” Johnson said. “So it was nice, a good practice. Guys were flying around, and I like what we’re doing.”

Johnson dismissed any notion about hurt feelings or anything concerning Erickson’s arrival. The former Utah quarterback was the team’s offensive coordinator last season.

“It’s been a very, very seamless transition. We’re excited to have him in the fold,” said Johnson, who added that Erickson is definitely bringing a lot to the table and everyone in the program can learn from him. “He’s been fantastic to be around every single day, and I’m glad that he’s here.”

Whittingham and Wilson agree.

“We’re fortunate to have him on the staff. He’s added a great deal to what we are doing,” Whittingham said, while emphasizing that the offense is not being completely overhauled by any means. “He just came in and did exactly what we hoped he would do.”

Namely, streamline things and add a few wrinkles.

“I thought we were off to a good start,” Whittingham said. “We had a lot of offense in for day one.”

Erickson acknowledged that the Utes are going to hurry things up offensively and use a form of it all the time. He noted that the top teams in the nation run 75-80 plays per game.

The up-tempo approach that Erickson is helping incorporate has been received well.

“It’s good. He’s a really good coach,” Wilson said. “He’s gotten to know everyone on the team real well. I think he’s a great addition to this coaching staff, and he’s going to help us a lot next year.”

Erickson also expressed optimism about the situation. Although he noted that the first day is easy and the 15th day is a little harder, Erickson said the quarterbacks looked pretty good throwing the football and he liked the offensive front.

Even so, Erickson joked that it’s kind of hard to tell with “underwear on.” The Utes won’t don full pads until next week.

Practice resumes Thursday.

“It was a good start,” Whittingham said. “And we hope to build on it on day two."

Email: dirk@desnews.com

Twitter: @DirkFacer

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