University of Utah football players only wish their professors scheduled classes like their coaches set up practices.
After just two days of drills this week, the Utes broke camp after Thursday's indoor session at the Spence Eccles Field House to begin a 12-day spring break.
The rest, says U. coach Kyle Whittingham, is a well-earned one. Now he says they need to get "refreshed" from their tough winter conditioning regimen.
"It's a very taxing program that we run," he said. "This will give them a nice break to recharge the batteries."
As they did last year, Ute coaches set up the spring camp in two chunks. The first two practices done without pads came at the end of their intense offseason training. This, Whittingham excitedly proclaimed, helped "the vast majority of our players" achieve personal-bests in weight lifting and played a part in many clocking "very good" 40-yard dashes. It also gives coaches a chance to meet with players and install their offensive and defensive packages.
After spring break, the team will return on Tuesday, March 25, to pound out the final 13 sessions, wrapping up with the Red & White Game on April 19.
"The next practice we get after it," Whittingham said. "That'll be a padded practice, and we'll start to sort things out."
The defensive front is one of the areas that needs the most sorting out, seeing as players such as Martail Burnett, Gabe Long, Malakai Mokofisi, Joe Jiannoni and Kyle Brady are no longer on the team.
"That's the most inexperienced place on the football team right now is our defensive front seven," Whittingham said. "So we've got to see a lot of development, a lot of improvement from those guys ... Inexperience is one thing, no talent is another. We've got talented guys there, so it's just a matter of getting them reps."
One player the Utes will count on to fill a void up front is Isley Filiaga of Orem. The sophomore, who transferred to Utah after an LDS mission and a redshirt year at BYU, is projected as a starting defensive tackle. Fellow soph Lei Talamaivao, who only practiced part of Thursday after suffering what coaches say was a minor injury, could start next to him in the interior.
"I feel like I fit into the program very well. It's been a nice change for me," said Filiaga, who was on Utah's roster but didn't see action last season. "The biggest challenge for me is the last time I played in a game was 2003, so it's been awhile since I've been on the field."
Filiaga said having a quick break is "nice," but he's anxious to start hitting.
"I wish we could start going full pads," he said, "but we've got to wait for that spring break to end."
That's when the pressure will be on Filiaga to keep his penciled-in starting job.
"I'll tell you a lot more when we've got gear on, but we're counting on him to step in and be one of our guys," Whittingham said. "He and Lei Talamaivao right now are starters, at least on paper. Now they've got to hold on to those jobs. But we're expecting Isley to be a big part of what we do this fall."
Sophomore Paul Kruger, who was at practice but didn't participate because he's still recovering from getting stabbed in January, and junior Koa Misi are the likely starters at the defensive end spots. Aaron Tonga, Greg Newman, Kenape Eliapo, Thor Salanoa, Blake Pacheco and Dave Kruger, Paul's highly regarded younger brother who's still at Timpanogos High, are expected to challenge for playing time. Defensive coordinator Gary Andersen said he likes to have a stable of eight guys rotate in and out of those four spots.
Anderson joked Thursday that after "two days of pretend football, we're doing pretty good." He has been impressed by how his youngsters have picked up the scheme and by how hard they worked in winter conditioning.
"Mentally," he said, "I think we're right where we need to be."
As for Paul Kruger, he was just happy to be back with the team this week. Though he's able to lift weights now, he will probably stay sidelined from live drills against the offense throughout the spring, allowing himself plenty of time to heal."I'll try to get back as quick as I can. I'm doing everything I can right now besides hitting," Kruger said. "It's nice. It's always good to be playing and practicing and be around the guys. There's a lot of intensity and charisma around here, so we're all excited to be here."
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