Brent Casteel is back where he wants to be — on the field.

After missing most of last season with a knee injury, the wide receiver is excited to be back in the mix.

"My health is 100 percent. I feel stronger, I feel faster and I feel smarter out there running the routes, reading the defenses and everything like that," Casteel said. "Being out for that year gave me the opportunity to study film, study my opponents and study bad habits that they do. I feel like I did a great job with that."

The senior, who has made 85 catches for 1,090 yards and 13 touchdowns in his career at Utah, injured his knee in the second game last season — leaving the competitor on the sidelines for the rest of the campaign.

"It was hard to watch, but they stepped in and didn't really miss a beat with that seven-game winning streak they went on," Casteel said. "But being out and watching it, it was hard. Because I wanted to be out there making those plays."

The return of Casteel's athleticism and skills have added to Utah's optimism for the coming season.

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham used two words when asked what Casteel brings to the team: big plays.

"That's what he did for us in '06. ... We missed him sorely last year. He's an explosive receiver," Whittingham said. "Brent Casteel is a guy we missed last year with his big-play capability."

BACK IN THE SADDLE: Quarterback Brian Johnson's return to full health is expected to broaden Utah's offensive scheme this season.

"Now that he's healthy we've got to go ahead and reintroduce the quarterback run game with him," said Whittingham, who noted the Utes couldn't do that a year ago because of Johnson's ailing shoulder.

In 2005 when Johnson replaced Alex Smith as Utah's starter, he threw for 2,892 yards and rushed for 478.

The dynamics changed last season. Johnson passing yardage fell to 1,847 and his rushing numbers to just 150.

THE RANKINGS: Although Whittingham appreciates the recognition for the program, he isn't putting too much stock in Utah's near-inclusion in the top 25 coaches poll. The Utes were among the others receiving votes, ranking 28th overall.

"I don't pay much attention to that. I think things will settle themselves out three or four weeks into the season," Whittingham said. "I don't think you have a good grasp on that until about that time. Up until then it's all speculation."

EXTRA POINTS: Highly touted receiver David Reed, a junior college transfer, drew praise for his play in practice Tuesday. Defensive backs Brandon Burton and Deshawn Richard were also mentioned for notable performances by Whittingham. ... Whittingham acknowledged there were some strained muscles on the team, but no one has been sidelined with an injury after two days of practice. ... Former Utah linebacker Kyle Brady has accepted an assistant coaching job at Southern Virginia. ... The Utes will have a combined two-hour practice this morning.

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