Utah's first spring practice involving full gear and tackling was highly anticipated. Thursday's unseasonably cool winds, however, were not.

"We were pretty excited until we stepped out of the locker room and it was cold," joked safety Robert Johnson. "... It was real cold, but everybody warmed up to it."

Especially, as it turned out, those on the defensive side of the ball.

"The defense is looking pretty good right now," acknowledged Johnson. "As long as our defense is real good, it's going to help our offense get completely better. Because if we're a top-ranked defense, it'll make our offense top ranked."

The Utes, he added, are determined to lead the nation in more than just pass efficiency this season.

"We've got a feisty, competitive defense that flies around and does some things," said quarterback Brian Johnson.

Wide receiver Jereme Brooks can relate. He endured several hard hits.

"It was rough — a rough, physical first day," said Brooks. "But it's just part of the process. We've just got to get ready and be better on Saturday."

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham noted that the defense has a big edge this time of year. Unlike many programs that don't blitz or run slants until a couple of weeks of camp have passed, the Utes get right into it.

"We don't put any restraints on that," said Whittingham. "We let everything happen as the defense wants it to. The offense has to adjust."

The coaching staff believes that's the best thing in the long run and notes that the offense eventually catches up.

"We've got a long ways to go and a lot of work to do," said quarterback Brian Johnson, who explained that live work is always beneficial. "If guys keep working like this, this team has a chance to do something pretty good."

Though pleased with the overall effort, Whittingham said the Utes — as a whole — aren't very good right now.

"That's very obvious. We've got a long ways to go," he noted.

"It's only Day 4 (of spring ball), so we're not in panic mode. But it was good competition."

The Utes practice again on Saturday.

EXTRA POINTS: While noting that he'd always like his team to be better, Whittingham acknowledged that the Utes are about where they'd expect to be at this time of year. ... Robert Johnson is still wearing a protective strap on his shoulder for precautionary reasons. He won't, however, wear it in fall camp ... Brian Johnson said his throwing shoulder is about 85 percent right now, but is confident it'll be 100 percent ready to go by fall camp.

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