Perhaps the biggest improvement for the Utah football team since completing spring ball has come in the kicking game.
Coach Kyle Whittingham has expressed praise throughout fall camp and, going into the season, the Utes are confident in both their punting and placekicking abilities.
Senior Ben Vroman has excelled in the placekicking department, making all but one of his field goal attempts in the three scrimmages, and he looks to be an able replacement for Louie Sakoda.
A couple of guys who have been overlooked are 19-year-old redshirt freshmen, Sean Sellwood and Patrick Greene, who will be key components on the special teams.
Sellwood, a native of South Africa, moved to Utah three years ago and played for Judge Memorial, where he set the school record for punts at more than 44 yards per kick. He'll take over the punting duties Sakoda has handled the past four years and also will be the holder on placekicks.
Greene, a native of Southern California, was discovered at a long-snapper combine and chose to come to Utah over a couple of other Mountain West Conference schools, TCU and Air Force. He'll be the long snapper for both punts and placekicks.
The two have worked closely all summer on getting their timing down, and they were thrilled to be awarded scholarships last week when two-a-day camp concluded.
"I've definitely upped my game from the spring," said Sellwood. "I feel a lot more confident and comfortable. I'm getting a lot more hang time and distance on my punts now. I understand the punt scheme a lot better — it's all about helping get the team the right field position."
As for being the holder, Sellwood says he is very comfortable in the position he's never played before, calling it an "easy job" but with "a lot of responsibility." "We've got our timing down, that's just repetitions," he said. "That's not even an issue."
Greene is taking over for Clint Mower, who handled Utah's long-snapping duties for the past three seasons. An all-Southern California linebacker at Monrovia High, Greene was offered a Division II scholarship but knew his future would be in long snapping, something he's done since seventh grade. So he accepted Utah's offer to walk on.
"It's all in the wrists and follow-through," he said. "If you don't have a good follow-through, you really can't snap. It's taken me since seventh grade to get it down."
Greene acknowledges there's a lot of pressure involved with his job. A poor snap can mean the difference in a win and a loss, especially if it sails over the punter's head or ends up in the placekicker's chest rather than the holder's hands.
In fact, Greene hopes no one even knows who he is out on the field.
"The only way someone recognizes you is if you mess up," he said. "As long as no one knows my name, it's a good thing."
The solid play of Sellwood, Greene and Vroman has eased the concerns of Utah special teams coach Jay Hill.
"Coming out of spring, I was worried about consistency," Hill said. "The biggest thing we've seen this fall is the exact opposite of that. Sean has been a real consistent punter — he's done a nice job of hanging the ball up nice and high. If he kicks the ball like he has in camp, we won't miss a beat from where Louie was at all."
Hill also likes the fact that Sellwood is both the holder and the punter and works with Greene on both.
"That's good because those guys can work together all day," he said. "The last four years we had (Eric) Weddle and (Bradon) Godfrey as the holder, and they'd have practice and couldn't work with (the snapper) all day."
Hill points out that games can be a different story than practice, recalling the start of the '06 season and being nervous about Sakoda when the team played at UCLA.
"I was scared to death the way Louie had been punting in camp, but he went out there and had the game of his life," Hill said.
From what he's seen so far this month, Hill is optimistic the Ute kicking game will be in good shape this fall.
"It'll be interesting when a game is on the line to see exactly how they do," Hill said "You never quite know, but I love where they're at right now."
EXTRA POINTS: On the injury front, there's nothing new to Whittingham said there was nothing different to report on the injury front. defensive end Koa Misi (back) is still doubtful for the season-opener, while Walter Watts and Caleb Schlauderaff are questionable with knee injuries. … Junior offensive lineman Daniel Bukarau took some reps with the No. 1 offense and is now in the mix to play against Utah State. ... Defensive tackle J.T. Tofaeono, a true freshman, has been moved from defensive tackle to offensive guard to help with depth at the position.
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