With a quarterback job to fill, an offensive line to plug and several new players to evaluate, the University of Utah will open spring football practice today.
The practices will be held every day except Wednesday and Sunday during the next three weeks, ending with the annual Red/White scrimmage on May 4."This will be a big spring for us," says Ron McBride, who is preparing for his second season as Utah's head coach. "We are looking forward to making some big strides, and we have some goals we want to accomplish. We are ahead of where we were last year, because everyone is pretty well in place."
The Utes return 46 lettermen and 16 starters from last year's 4-7 team, headed by all-conference linebacker Anthony Davis, who had 87 tackles and 10 tackles for loss last season.
The Utes also return defensive end Jimmy Bellamy, a second-team all-conference pick, wide receiver Bryan Rowley and Steve Abrams, who is being moved from halfback to fullback.
Not surprisingly, when McBride lists his spring practice goals, most of them concern the offense, which sputtered throughout last season.
"We need to come out of spring with a real solid offensive line," he begins. "We need to come out with a quarterback. We need to work hard on scoring from the 20-yard line in. We need to work on converting on short-yardage situations. We need to improve our pass protection to 90 percent efficiency. We need to improve our pass efficiency . . . ."
One of the Utes' top priorities this spring will be deciding on a starting quarterback. Mike Richmond and Jason Woods split the job last season, but McBride has made it clear he doesn't want to do so again. "I didn't want to do it last year," he says. "Why would I want to do it this year?" Richmond and Woods will compete with Frank Dolce (a redshirt last season) and Stewart Hansen for the starting job.
The Utes, whose running game was among the worst in the country last year, are searching for a couple of running backs, but several of their brightest prospects won't participate in spring practice. Pierre Jones and Keith Williams, who were recruited last year but were unable to report to school, won't report to Utah until next fall. Devo Fineanganofo, another top running back who sat out last season as a Prop. 48 case, also won't report until next fall.
The Utes will evaluate a number of other new players immediately, including two junior college transfers - linebacker Sam Manu and defensive back Reggie Alston - and several players who redshirted last season - including wide receivers Royal Wilbon, Vernon Shaver (a prep All-American) and Hank Dorner.
The Utes have hired two new assistant coaches this year. Rick Rasnik, a former offensive coordinator at San Jose State, has been named assistant head coach for the offense. He will share the duties of directing the offense with offensive coordinator Dan Henson and also coach the running backs. Russ Bolinger, who played for McBride at Long Beach State, will coach the offensive line as a graduate assistant. Fred Graves, last year's running back coach, will coach the wide receivers.