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Utah Utes football: Program moving into new Pac-12 era

Published: Sunday, Aug. 2 2015 9:32 p.m. MDT

Utah head football coach Kyle Whittingham looks on during Tuesday's first spring practice. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News) Utah head football coach Kyle Whittingham looks on during Tuesday's first spring practice. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's first spring practice as a Pac-12 football program was a little different. And it had nothing to do with the Utes' initial session being indoors because of snow.

"It's a new era in Utah football and you can sense it," said coach Kyle Whittingham. "There's an excitement among the players about it and it's a big challenge. No doubt about it. It's going to be exciting."

New offensive coordinator Norm Chow, who spent the past couple of seasons at UCLA, acknowledged "it's a different deal."

But in other ways, he noted, things are still the same for the players..

"It's nothing different. We've just got to go play football. They know that," Chow said. "They know the challenge that's ahead and the week-to-week competition that the Pac-12 brings. They're ready for that. They've been through big games before."

Norm Chow, the University of Utah's new offensive coordinator, offers instruction during Tuesday's first spring practice. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News) Norm Chow, the University of Utah's new offensive coordinator, offers instruction during Tuesday's first spring practice. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News)

Switching conferences isn't the only change the program is undergoing.

The Utes are installing a new offense, replacing the spread with a multiple offensive scheme.

"We're going under center a lot more which is a big adjustment in and of itself," Whittingham said.

It's a big change, he explained, because the footwork is different for the quarterbacks and the angles are different for the running backs.

"So there is a learning curve with that," Whittingham said after Tuesday's two-hour, no-pads practice at the Spence Eccles Field House. "... For one day. I thought we made good progress."

With returning starter Jordan Wynn unable to throw because of offseason shoulder surgery, sophomore Griff Robles and freshman Tyler Shreve took most of the snaps at quarterback.

Utah's #87 Dres Anderson brings in the ball during the  first practice of the spring Tuesday, March 8, 2011 in the indoor practice facility.  (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News) Utah's #87 Dres Anderson brings in the ball during the first practice of the spring Tuesday, March 8, 2011 in the indoor practice facility. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News)

"It was a good start," Whittingham said. "The two young quarterbacks are getting all the reps, so that will be great for their development."

Everyone is being pushed hard — and encouraged to dig into their playbook during off-time — as the coaching staff seeks to install the new offense over the first five spring practices.

It's a lot to digest.

Chow said they're trying to get it done quickly.

"We're going to try to pound it for the next four days and get it all in," he explained. "Then kind of take a step back and try to get all the finer points and details."

Whittingham noted that reviewing the scheme and polishing things up will come after exposing the offense to as much as possible as early as possible.

Quarterback #12 Griff Robles delivers a pass during the first day of spring practice Tuesday, March 8, 2011 in the indoor practice facility.  (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News) Quarterback #12 Griff Robles delivers a pass during the first day of spring practice Tuesday, March 8, 2011 in the indoor practice facility. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News)

"I thought it went well. I thought our guys worked awfully hard. We got a lot of reps in. Kyle likes that fast pace," Chow said. "Obviously, a ton of mistakes, but that's why you practice. It looked OK."

The changes are meeting with Wynn's approval. He's taking snaps on run drills and keeping a close watch on the passing sequences as his shoulder mends.

"I love it. It's kind of getting back to what I did in high school," Wynn said. "With the zone read and the spread, it kind of wasn't ideal for me, but I went with it. Coach has kind of tailored it to my skill set ... as of right now, I love the pro-style system."

The shift includes the extended use of the fullback, where Karl Williams, Boo Andersen and Jake Murphy are competing for the top spot on the depth chart.

Primary running back duties are being battled for by Luke Matthews, Harvey Langi, John White and rugby star Thretton Palamo.

Utah offensive coordinator Norm Chow shares a laugh with wide receiver Mo Lee (17).  (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News) Utah offensive coordinator Norm Chow shares a laugh with wide receiver Mo Lee (17). (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News)

"I think we have four legitimate guys that can play the position," Wynn said before being asked about Utah's receiving corps. He then noted the play of DeVonte Christopher, Reggie Dunn and Mo Lee.

The offense made a good first impression on Chow.

"They did a nice job," he said. "These are tremendous young guys."

Wynn noted that the team's focus hasn't changed with the move from the Mountain West Conference to the Pac-12.

"I think it's the same," he said. "We're going to go out and work hard every day and try to get better."

The Utes will resume spring practices Thursday (3-5 p.m.) and Saturday (10 a.m.-noon) at Rice-Eccles Stadium. The public is invited to attend.

e-mail: dirk@desnews.com

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