If there was a standout performer in Utah's first day of camp, it might have been strength and conditioning coach Doug Elisaia. The offseason efforts of Elisaia and his staff paid immediate dividends.
"It was very evident that the summer conditioning program was very effective," said head coach Kyle Whittingham. "They're in good shape, and that's always something you want to see."
The Utes, who open the season Aug. 30 at Michigan, got started with split sessions on Monday. While one group was on the field, the other was in the weight room.
"All the hard work from summer showed up in today's workout," said offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig.
Things went so smoothly, in fact, Ludwig joked that the players probably could have gotten things done without the coaches.
"But things moved a lot faster when we were out there," he said. "It was a good day's work."
Whittingham agreed. He said the Utes "got off on the right foot" and added that the 104 participants did well from an effort, focus and concentration perspective.
"It was good. The first day is always an exciting part of camp.
"Everybody is fired up," quarterback Brian Johnson said. "It went well. Guys competed and did a good job, but there's still a long way to go. We've still got work to do.
"The focus for us is to just keep getting better everyday and get ready for Michigan," he said.
With the season-opener less than four weeks away, the Utes were eager to get back on the field.
"We started off on a very positive note," wide receiver Brent Casteel said. "So everything's looking up right now."
Running back Darrell Mack acknowledged the Utes had fun getting camp started. Defensive end Paul Kruger had similar thoughts.
"Everybody is just really excited for the first day. It's always pretty competitive," he said. "It's good to get back."
Kruger noted that the intensity level was high and that the coaches got after the players to go full speed and play hard.
"The kids responded," said defensive coordinator Gary Andersen. "I think that they're in good shape. The strength coaches did a nice job with them."
The Utes, however, aren't content with the solid showing on opening day.
"It's a good start. That's what it is," said special teams coordinator Jay Hill. "It's just a start, but it's a very good start."
Over the remaining weeks of camp, there are several objectives the coaching staff is seeking to complete.
Whittingham said the list includes continued continuity on the offensive line, developing depth at receiver and getting a look at the defensive tackles and linebackers to make sure the right guys are on the field. Identifying the best 11 players on offense and defense, as well as modifying schemes are among the issues to be settled in camp.
With eight returning starters, Ludwig said the Utes have three primary objectives in camp.
"We've got to establish the personality and chemistry on the offensive side of the football," he said. "We've got to establish depth, get our starting 11 and then the next best 11 behind them. And show great ownership in the offensive scheme."
Johnson is healthy after offseason shoulder surgery and headlines an offense that features talented running backs Darrell Mack and Matt Asiata. The receiving corps includes veterans Casteel, Bradon Godfrey, Freddie Brown, Elijah Wesson and Jereme Brooks, plus junior college transfers Aiona Key and David Reed. Four returning starters are back on the offensive line.
After ranking among the nation's elite a year ago, Utah's defense has some holes to fill. Although only five starters are back, the Utes have plenty of experience to step in.
Koa Misi, Greg Newman, Lei Talamaivao, Kenape Eliapo and Kruger currently top the depth chart on the line. Stevenson Sylvester, Mike Wright and Nai Fotu lead the linebackers. Cornerbacks Brice McCain and Sean Smith join safeties Robert Johnson and Joe Dale in the secondary.
Getting the best 11 players on the field is, as usual, a priority for Andersen. So, too, is establishing a two-deep chart. Andersen said running to the ball and stopping the run consistently are other things to do in camp.
All-American kicker/punter Louie Sakoda and long snapper Clint Mower give the Utes senior leadership in this phase of the game. In addition, they have experienced return specialists in Casteel, Brooks and Wesson.
Even so, the Utes have a list of things to accomplish before camp is complete."The biggest thing is we want to be able to see execution. We've got to to be able, obviously, to install all the schemes and situations," Hill said. "We've got all specialists back. We've just got to get the schemes installed and be able to execute."
First down: Utah held split sessions at the practice fields. While half the team was on the field, the other group was in the weight room. Head coach Kyle Whittingham said things went as expected and was especially pleased with the Utes' conditioning.
Head-turner: Whittingham said quarterback Brian Johnson threw the ball well and his surgically repaired shoulder was free of pain throughout the first session of camp. The first offense, he added, had its most effective opening day in years.
Injury report: None
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