Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham watches the Utes during their first practice of the spring at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

SALT LAKE CITY — After the first day in pads for spring football practice, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham wasn't doing any cartwheels about his offense.

"We did some good things on defense and we had some guys making plays. But on offense, we have a long way to go," Whittingham said, putting an emphasis on the word "long."

The Utes' receivers made several drops and the quarterbacks missed their targets, and overall the execution wasn't great for the offense in a two-hour practice at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

"Typically, the defense is ahead of the offense early on and that's certainly the case right now," Whittingham said.

OK, so let's talk about the defense.

Whittingham was thrilled with his defensive line and he singled out Star Lotulelei, Derrick Shelby, Dave Kruger, Joe Kruger and James Aiono. The linebacking crew, headed by converted safety Brian Blechin has been solid also, he said.

The biggest question mark on defense is the secondary, which must replace all four starters because of graduation (Justin Taplin-Ross, Lamar Chapman), an early NFL hopeful (Brandon Burton) and a position change (Blechin).

"It's tough to say where we are in the secondary," Whittingham said. "We feel we have some good athletes back there. There's not a lot of experience, but that's what spring ball is for."

According to Whittingham, the starters right now are Conroy Black and Ryan Lacy at the corners, and Terrell Reese and Michael Walker at safety.

Of the cornerbacks, defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake said, "They have ability. We just have to get their minds right."

Besides Black and Lacy, Sitake mentioned Wykie Freeman, Reggie Topps, Lewis Walker, Devin Mickles, Chandler Johnson and Joseph Smith as others who have a chance to challenge for the cornerback jobs.

"In past years, we've tried to get five corners ready and work with four," Sitake said. "We have the chance to get six or seven ready this year."

Besides Reese, a redshirt freshman from Texas, and Walker, a sophomore from Texas, Damian Payne, another redshirt freshman from Texas, and Quade Chappius, a sophomore from Lone Peak High, are the Utes' top players at the safety spot.

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"Terrell Reese is a guy who's making some strides and Michael Walker excelled on special teams last year and he showed up today," said safeties coach Morgan Scalley. "None of these guys really have game-time experience. It's a fresh batch and it was nice to have pads on for the first time today."

UTE NOTES: Late in Saturday's practice, two players — receiver DeVonte Christopher and safety Damian Payne — both went down on the same play with pulled hamstrings. Whittingham said Christopher's was probably worse and said he could be out for a couple of weeks. Also, guard Sam Brenner hurt his hand and will get it checked out, Whittingham said. ... The Utes will practice twice this week, on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, before taking 10 days off for spring break.