SALT LAKE CITY — Spring football kicks off at the University of Utah this week. Things get started Tuesday and conclude with the annual Red-White Game at Rice-Eccles Stadium on Saturday, April 20.
After having a nine-year bowl streak come to an end last season, the Utes (5-7 in 2012) are eager to get back on the field.
“It’s been a different type of offseason without postseason play,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. “But we felt like we maximized that time as well as we could have in the weight room and with the conditioning part of it.”
Now comes some on-field work. And as usual, Whittingham noted that the main emphasis of spring ball is “to make every player better fundamentally and technically at what they’re doing.”
Utah’s offense, as a whole, is seeking similar traits as new co-offensive coordinator Dennis Erickson introduces some new aspects to the scheme.
“Minor tweaks, I guess, is how you can define it,” said Whittingham, who noted that Erickson has also streamlined and simplified some things.
The Utes are committed to a spread attack with an up-tempo approach and much more no huddle.
“You’ll see things that we’ve been doing with just a few additions,” Whittingham said. “There’s less change than what we hung on to.”
Even so, Whittingham acknowledged Erickson’s alterations to the scheme will need to be implemented and practiced this spring.
Utah ranked 11th in the Pac-12 and 105th nationally with 324.42 yards per game last season.
“I think in order to be more productive on offense it certainly helps to be able to run more plays,” Whittingham said. “The way you do that is with a little more up-tempo.”
Getting up to speed with young players in the program is also a focal point of spring ball. Whittingham noted that the staff is eager to learn more about their capabilities.
Several projected contributors, however, won’t be in the mix until summer conditioning and fall camp — meaning some position battles won’t be resolved in spring ball.
Spots on the depth chart, though, will be contested in the 15 scheduled practices. Sessions include two scrimmages and the spring game.
A position-by-position look at camp:
QUARTERBACKS: Sophomore Travis Wilson headlines a group of four quarterbacks in spring camp. He’ll be joined by sophomore Adam Schulz, freshman Brandon Cox and walk-on Logan Bateman. High school signee Connor Manning won’t join the team until summer.
RUNNING BACKS: Senior Kelvin York is the frontrunner in a pool of competitors that includes sophomore James Poole, junior Lucky Radley and senior Karl Williams. Whittingham noted that Poole has made a lot of progress and is bigger and stronger. He praised Radley’s work ethic and said Williams has also done a nice job.
WIDE RECEIVERS: Despite taking a big graduation hit, Whittingham said the Utes have a lot of guys they like coming back at receiver. The cast includes junior Kenneth Scott, junior Dres Anderson, senior Anthony Denham and junior Quinton Pedroza. Redshirt freshmen Delshawn McClellon and Brian Allen are other players to watch.
TIGHT ENDS: Whittingham said that junior Jake Murphy has “positioned himself for a big year.” So, too, has senior Westlee Tonga. Mid-year junior college transfer Greg Reese and true freshman Harrison Handley of Alta are also in the mix.
OFFENSIVE LINE: With 18 linemen in the program, Whittingham can’t recall having more depth up front. He said the Utes redshirted several good players last season and now have a lot of quality and quantity on the offensive line. All-America candidate Jeremiah Poutasi, a sophomore, will start at left tackle. Senior Jeremiah Tofaeono is slated to be next to him at left guard. Senior Vyncent Jones tops the depth chart at center with promising redshirt freshman Hiva Lutui giving chase. On the right side, junior Junior Salt and sophomore Siaosi Aiono open camp as the starters at guard and tackle, respectively. Juniors Carlos Lozano and Andrew Albers will push for playing time as well. Junior Marc Pouvave should join them this fall. He’ll see limited action this spring while recovering from an Achilles injury.
DEFENSIVE LINE: The unexpected departure of Joe Kruger for the NFL has created an opportunity for players like redshirt freshmen Hunter Dimick and Moses Folauhola, as well as senior Thretton Palamo, to compete for serious playing time. Senior Trevor Reilly, who won’t compete in spring ball because of an injury, and junior Nate Orchard (formerly Fakahafua) are listed as the starters at end on the depth chart. Whittingham, though, said Reilly may end up spend the majority of his time at linebacker this fall — although a final determination has yet to be made. The tackles spots are currently topped by seniors Tenny Palepoi and LT Tuipulotu, who shares his spot with sophomore Seni Fauonuku. Others expected to be in the rotation include redshirt freshman Stevie Tu’ikolovatu.
LINEBACKERS: Everyone needs to take a step forward. That’s the message Whittingham has for the freshmen and sophomore linebackers who are now juniors and seniors.
“What we hoping for last year, we need to get this year out of that group,” he said.
The initial spring depth chart has junior Jacoby Hale on top at rover with junior V.J. Fehoko and sophomore Jason Whittingham as the leaders at middle and stud, respectively. Sophomore Reshawn Hooker, freshman Uaea Masina, sophomore LT Filiaga and sophomore Jared Norris are also listed.
CORNERBACKS: Graduation has the Utes “essentially starting over” at corner. Even so, Whittingham said that much like the offensive line there’s a lot of quality and quantity at the position. Senior Keith McGill and redshirt freshman Reginald Porter lead the spring depth chart on one side, while junior Davion Orphey and redshirt freshman Justin Thomas top the other. Senior Mike Honeycutt is also in the competition. Junior Joseph Smith and senior Michael Walker are the leaders at nickel back.
SAFETIES: Senior Brian Blechen and junior Eric Rowe give the Utes experience and talent at strong safety and free safety, respectively. Others in spring camp include junior Tyron Morris-Edward, senior Quade Chappuis, sophomore Charles Henderson and sophomore Joseph Bryant.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Many spots won’t be solidified until other players arrive this fall. Sophomore Tom Hackett is back, though, and is the odds-on favorite to win the punting job.
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Utah spring football schedule
All outdoor practices are open to the public. Indoor sessions (because of inclement weather) are not because of space limitations.
March 19: 2:45-4:45 p.m. (no pads)
March 21: 2:45-4:45 p.m. (no pads)
March 23: 10 a.m.-noon (no tackle)
March 26: 2:45-4:45 p.m. (tackle)
March 28: 2:45-4:45 p.m. (no tackle)
March 30: 10 a.m.-noon (tackle)
April 2: 2:45-4:45 p.m. (tackle)
April 4: 2:45-4:45 p.m. (no tackle)
April 5: 4-6 p.m. (scrimmage) *
April 9: 2:45-4:45 p.m. (tackle)
April 11: 2:45-4:45 p.m. (no tackle)
April 13: 10 a.m.-noon (scrimmage) *
April 16: 2:45-4:45 p.m. (tackle)
April 18: 2:45-4:45 p.m. (no pads)
April 20: 1 p.m. (Red-White Game) *
* At Rice-Eccles Stadium