James Aiono

SALT LAKE CITY — Defensive lineman James Aiono's first spring at the University of Utah has been filled with a lot of hard work. The former Murray High star, who was a two-time All-American at Snow College, is busy getting back into shape after missing the entire 2009 season while getting his academics in order.

"James has made a lot of progress this spring," said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. "He was rusty for the first three or four practices. Then he really started to make progress and come into his own. He's playing very well right now. He's playing good football."

So well, in fact, that Aiono is right in the mix to start for the Utes this fall. With spring camp winding down, Whittingham noted that the 6-foot-4, 290-pounder is "starting to play like we knew he was capable of."

Aiono, who enrolled at Utah in January, acknowledges that progress is being made.

"There's a lot of work I've been able to put in this spring," Aiono said. "So I'm glad I came in when I did."

Rated as the No. 1 junior college recruit in the nation by Rivals.com in 2008, Aiono added that he's been very fortunate to put in the type of work he has with the guys at Utah.

"I'm definitely happy to be here," he said.

Aiono is feeling more comfortable each day.

"Obviously I've gotten a lot of reps. So I've got the x's and o's down quite a bit better than I did when I first came in."

Even so, he's far from satisfied — planning to give continued focus on both athletics and academics before players report for fall camp on Aug. 4.

"I feel like I'm in a little bit better shape than I was when I came in," Aiono said. "But I know I'm still not where I need to be. I still have the summer and the summer is going to be pretty critical."

EXTRA POINTS: Quarterback Jordan Wynn spent practice in "The Pit" for precautionary reasons with a slight bicep strain. The sophomore is expected to participate in the Red-White Game on Saturday, however. ... Senior tight end Brad Clifford banged up his shoulder and will miss the remainder of spring ball. He's expected to be completely healthy in a week or so. ... Thursday's practice was held at Rice-Eccles Stadium.