Ravell Call, Deseret News
V.J. Fehoko and Westlee Tonga reach for a pass at the goal line during University of Utah football practice at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Monday, Aug. 15, 2011.
It looks like we've got a group of linebackers that, if they continue to develop, could end up being very good. —Utah coach Kyle Whittingham

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah put on the pads Saturday at Rice-Eccles Stadium, much to the delight of linebacker V.J. Fehoko.

"Whew. I think it was so intense that the coaches almost passed out today," Fehoko said. "The juice, the energy was flowing."

While adding that he loved the intensity and passion of the Utes' third spring practice, Fehoko acknowledged being "thirsty" for the opportunities ahead. After playing behind seniors Chaz Walker and Matt Martinez last season, the sophomore is now topping the depth chart at middle linebacker.

"The guys before me like Chaz and Matt set that tone and have taught me the tricks of the trade and the ropes," Fehoko said. "So I think I'm pretty ready for this. I've been waiting a long time."

As such, the former Hawaii prep star — who made 222 tackles in high school and won the "Hardest Hitter in the Nation" award at the U.S. Army Bowl — was really looking forward to putting the pads on.

"I was so disappointed today that none of the runs came my way up the middle. I had to chase everything. Hopefully next practice I don't have to chase a lot and they can come right to me — head up," Fehoko said. "I just take a lot of passion with me on the field. I want to hit people, let them feel and let them know all my hard work and where I come from."

Fehoko is part of a young linebacking corps that head coach Kyle Whittingham considered the "highlight" of the first tackle practice of spring. Besides Fehoko, Whittingham noted the play of LT Filiaga, Jared Norris and Jason Whittingham.

"It looks like we've got a group of linebackers that, if they continue to develop, could end up being very good," Whittingham said.

Another standout on defense was senior tackle Star Lotulelei. The All-America candidate made quite an impact.

"We were a little bit slow starting offensively, but once we took Star out of the lineup on defense things got a lot cleaner for the offense," Whittingham said. "That's usually the case. We picked up some momentum as the practice went on … offensively finished strong."

Offensive coordinator Brian Johnson also noted that it was nice when Lotulelei was not in there.

"No doubt. He's the Morris Award winner for a reason," Johnson said. "He's a force of nature."

The challenge for the interior line, he added, is to try and handle Lotulelei.

"Just know if you block Star you won't have a problem at all this season blocking anybody," Johnson said. "Because he's as good as you'll see, not only in this league but in the country."

Quarterback Jordan Wynn thought the offense handled the live action well, both running and passing.

Johnson agreed.

"I think we're competing extremely well. Obviously some stuff changes once you get into pads and you get a chance to play some real football," he said. "The pass rush is on you a little bit faster and I thought we did a nice job handling it and competing throughout most of the practice. I think it was a solid start. We've still got a long ways to go. The key for us is to build upon this for next week."

EXTRAPOINTS: Utah had 49 high school players observe practice for "JuniorDay."…Whittingham said there has yet to be any separation for the backup quarterback job, noting that senior JonHays is a proven commodity, but will get less reps as the Utes take a closer look at true freshmen ChaseHansen and TrevorWilson.…Defensive end NateFakahafua twisted his ankle on Thursday and did not practice. He's expected to be back on the field when spring camp resumes Tuesday.

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