Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News
Ute running back Harvey Langi looks for a hole. in the line as the University of Utah holds their first day of spring practice Tuesday, March 8, 2011 in the indoor practice facility.

SALT LAKE CITY — Thretton Palamo was surprised to learn he was the leading rusher in Utah's first spring scrimmage.

"I didn't even know that," Palamo said after rushing for 73 yards on 16 carries Friday afternoon at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

The 22-year-old sophomore is making a steady transition from national rugby star to college running back.

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said Palamo ran hard in the scrimmage and it looked like he made the most of his extensive opportunities, getting four more rushes than anyone else.

Did Palamo fare well enough to separate himself from the three-way logjam atop the depth chart?

"We'll have to watch the tapes to draw definitive conclusions," Whittingham said.

Freshman Harvey Langi netted 34 yards on 12 carries, while junior college transfer John White finished with 29 yards on 10 rushes.

"The coaches said I did pretty well. So I'll take that," Palamo said. "Football is new for me."

He's still learning — and he's not alone.

Langi, who enrolled in college early after a stellar career at Bingham High School, is also adjusting to things.

"Today was just an experience," Langi said. "It was just a big eye-opener for me. The speed was amazingly active, intense."

Even so, things went fairly well for the offense.

Young quarterbacks Griff Robles and Tyler Shreve, who are getting the reps while returning starter Jordan Wynn recovers from shoulder surgery, teamed to complete 14-of-28 passes for 249 yards and five touchdowns. Robles led three of the scoring drives, including two in red-zone situations.

"I think as a team we were able to improve a lot today," Robles said before acknowledging "there's definitely room to improve."

Such is the case this time of year.

Even so, Whittingham was pleased with a lot of things as Utah moved past the midway point in its 15 spring practices. The highlights, he noted, included no fumbles, very few penalties and good tackling for the first scrimmage.

"A lot of positives. The quarterbacks progressed a little bit," Whittingham said. "Still a long ways to go, but for the first extensive live work of the spring I thought it was pretty good."

Besides Palamo, Whittingham credited wide receiver Dres Anderson for having a notable performance on offense. Anderson teamed with Shreve on a 45-yard touchdown pass.

Reggie Dunn led the Utes with two receptions for scores as new offensive coordinator Norm Chow's scheme made a successful debut. Karl Williams and Westlee Tonga also had touchdown catches.

Whittingham liked the tempo, especially since there weren't a lot of illegal procedure and false start penalties.

When practice resumes on Monday, though, the coach would like to see improved physicality in the run game and a higher pass completion percentage.

Things will only get tougher.

On Friday, the Utes didn't blitz much and pretty much played a straight base defense. Leading tacklers James Aiono and Star Lotulelei didn't even play.

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Whittingham, however, did note that defensive end Joe Kruger was "exceptional." Other standouts include Eric Dago and J.T. Strong, who each made two sacks. Trevor Reilly had an interception.

There's no question, Whittingham said, the defense is ahead of the offense at this point.

"That's to be expected," he explained while noting the new offense and the lack of experience at quarterback. "We'd be worried and concerned if we weren't ahead defensively."

The Utes tallied eight sacks, five tackles-for-loss and a pass break-up in the scrimmage.