When asked who stood out in Saturday morning's practice, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham had a swift response.
"Brian Johnson," he said. "He's playing well. He's making good decisions and running the offense very effectively."
It's been that way throughout the first week of camp.
Johnson, who is healthy after battling injuries the past couple of years, has gotten the offense off to a smooth start.
"We're starting fast and that's what we wanted to do as an offense," Johnson said. "It helps that we have a ton of veteran guys who have been here and done it before, that have been involved with the offense and have made a lot of plays for us before."
Johnson and his primary receivers spent a lot of time over summer getting ready.
"I think it's definitely paid off and our offense seems to be clicking a lot better this year," said receiver Bradon Godfrey, who believes the extra work has paid definite dividends in terms of timing and chemistry. "It makes camp a lot better. Usually it takes the offense awhile to get going and clicking, but when you come out on Day 1 it makes it a lot more fun when you're tearing up the defense in camp."
Though it's still early, Utah's offense is executing well. The offensive line and running backs have also gotten into the act. As a point of emphasis in camp, the running backs are playing a more effective role in the throwing game.
So far, so good.
It's all part of an overall process that began in the offseason with individual work, providing some momentum going into camp and supervised practices.
"We've kind of taken it upon ourselves as players to take ownership of what we are doing," he said. "And try to have the confidence to come out and match it every day."
Johnson threw passes to his teammates three times a week in June and upped it to five in July.
"That's what you need in this age of college football. To make sure you keep your edge, you've got to be out there throwing," he explained. "As hard as it is to find a rhythm and keep that rhythm, it's easier to lose it. You've got to make sure you stay sharp."
Utah's challenges were compounded by Johnson's shoulder woes last season and Brent Casteel's comeback from knee surgery.
"I feel like I'm 100 percent
and Brian is 100 percent," Casteel said. "His arm looks great. He's putting that ball on the money, and we're going to take it to the next level."
With the Aug. 30 season-opener at Michigan drawing near, Johnson and company are determined to keep getting better. The focus and concentration, Johnson notes, is greater than it's been the past couple of years.
"I think this entire team understands what's at stake this season for us," Johnson said. "I think this entire team understands what we're capable of doing."
There's an extreme determination to capitalize on the opportunity, especially for Johnson and the other seniors.
"Obviously it gives you a sense of urgency," Johnson said. "You see the light at the end of the tunnel and you see that your college career is coming to an end. So you really don't want to underachieve.
"You want to take advantage of that moment."
To do so, however, the Utes invested heavily in preparation. Johnson said throwing to his receivers helped his rehab from shoulder surgery and improved team chemistry.
"It worked out great for us," said Casteel, who added that the relationship between a quarterback and his receivers is critical on several fronts. "We all feed off of each other."
Johnson, though, knows his role is a bit different. As the starting quarterback and a senior, his responsibilities include leadership. He was a captain last season and will likely be elected to the post again.
"My approach is exactly the same. The only thing I've tried to do more is make sure that I can get guys to rally around. Rally the troops to make sure we don't have a bad practice kind of set the tempo," Johnson said. "That's what I try to take upon myself. I know some of the other seniors feel that way as well. We kind of want to set the tempo of the way we work, the way we practice and make sure we always have high energy."
And that's not all."We have a lot of potential and there's a lot of talent coming back," Johnson said. "We have a chance to do some good things. The guys (who) are out here are working hard and they want to be great. We've just got to come out here and keep getting better."
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