As of right now we can’t really afford any more injuries to the defense. At the same time, we’re trying to get as many reps as we can because we need that work. We’re not as good as we need to be right now. And so I think keeping us out is a negative but it’s also a positive. —Alex Whittingham

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah linebackers Jason Whittingham and Jared Norris are kind of, sort of, covered in bubble wrap in preseason camp. For precautionary reasons, the juniors aren’t seeing any live action as the Utes prepare for the upcoming season. Spring ball injuries to projected contributors Gionni Paul and Jacoby Hale have left the team without a lot of options at the position.

“We’re paper thin there,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. “We don’t have a lot of depth there. We’ve got to be smart.”

As such, they’re taking an educated approach with Jason Whittingham and Norris. Whittingham is the Utes’ leading returning tackler with 81 stops in 2013. Norris is third (behind safety Eric Rowe) with 64.

“They’re getting extensive work. We just haven’t put them in any live drills, nor will we, until the first game,” said Kyle Whittingham. “They’re both proven commodities. They’ve got nothing to prove. We know that they work hard every day.”

As such, the coach added that it’s not like the duo is going to get complacent or take advantage of having some down time during live work.

“They’ve both got great work ethics and they’re both competitors,” he said. “They’re making plays when we’re doing the team run, the team pass — all those things that are not live — they show up exactly where they’re supposed to show up.”

Even so, Jason Whittingham admits he does feel a little bit like he’s in bubble wrap.

“But as of right now we can’t really afford any more injuries to the defense,” he said, then noting that it would be good to keep his legs and those of Norris fresh for the season. “At the same time, we’re trying to get as many reps as we can because we need that work. We’re not as good as we need to be right now. And so I think keeping us out is a negative but it’s also a positive. So we’re just trying to keep our legs under us but still get those reps that we need to get better.”

Where there’s a will, they say, there’s a way.

“It can be a mixture of things when you’re on the sideline and not in practice getting the reps. You can watch the guys out there, pretend that you’re them and envision yourself in that spot, and that’s kind of a way to get your mental reps,” Jason Whittingham explained. “At the same time, you can be in the film room getting extra work there. Film is the equivalent to getting real reps in live situations.

“So the mental aspect is a good way to keep up on getting your work in,” he continued. “But, like I said, we have to make sure we’re getting those real reps so that we can be ready for when the real speed picks up in the games.”

Norris said he definitely believes the duo will be ready for the season.

When we’re on the field, it’s not like we’re letting up and not going 100 percent,” he noted. “That’s what we like doing. So there’s no letting up at all.”

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As for the “bubble wrap” analogy, Norris said not so much.

“We’re just being smart about reps and keeping our legs fresh, keeping everyone’s legs fresh really. Now’s not the time to get injuries,” he explained. “We’ve got a bunch of guys out and now we’ve got to stay healthy and just keep on trucking towards the season. We’ve got to play hard but we’ve got to be smart and stay healthy.”

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