It was very apparent to me that the offense is much further ahead than we were this time last year. It's not a surprise, but it’s good to see us in a much better place right now than as opposed to last year at this time. —Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham
SALT LAKE CITY — Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said the Utes had good energy on the first day of spring football. That always happens, he explained, when kicking off the camp.
However, not everything went according to script. A weekend snowstorm forced a majority of practice to be held indoors. There were also several developing storylines on the field such as the debut of highly touted quarterback Jack Tuttle and Gary Andersen’s return to the program after head coaching stints at Utah State, Wisconsin and Oregon State.
Whittingham’s primary focus, though, was on the big picture.
“It was very apparent to me that the offense is much further ahead than we were this time last year,” said Whittingham, who added that such is to be expected. “It’s not a surprise, but it’s good to see us in a much better place right now than as opposed to last year at this time.”
The Utes are preparing for their second season with Troy Taylor as offensive coordinator. Taylor also oversees the quarterbacks — Tuttle, returning starter Tyler Huntley, Jason Shelley and walk-on Drew Lisk.
Whittingham said that all four looked “very sharp” in the opening session and that the top three guys “looked really good.” He praised the offense in terms of execution, assignments and tempo.
“Just everything,” he continued. “Just everything from A to Z.”
Taylor also said the quarterbacks performed well. He was pleased with everything overall.
“They did a nice job,” said Taylor, who noted the new wrinkles to the offense were picked up. “They’ve been working really hard learning the stuff.”
Huntley explained that he’s been helping teach the others and they’re pushing him every day.
“It’s just fun to have them right behind me,” he said.
When it comes to Tuttle, who enrolled in college early after a stellar prep career in California, Whittingham said he wants to see him compete, take charge and have command of the offense with repetitive accuracy in the throw game.
“Today he was all that. He’s dialed in. He’s very schooled up on the offense,” Whittingham said. “He’s spent a lot of time in the offseason — during these last couple of months — studying the offense, and today he looked like he felt very comfortable.”
Having Andersen back in the fold was also an early success. The former Utah defensive coordinator is back on the staff for the first time since the Sugar Bowl victory over Alabama in January of 2009.
“It’s great. It’s awesome to have Gary here. It’s a big plus for our football team for a lot of different reasons,” Whittingham said. “But first and foremost for the defensive linemen. (Andersen) and Lewis (Powell) working with those guys should be a really good situation for us.”
Andersen enjoyed returning to his alma mater. He joined the Utah staff in January when the NCAA allowed programs to add a 10th assistant coach.
“It was a good day. It was fun to be out here with these kids,” Andersen said. “I’ve been with them now for a while, and so to get practice one underneath our belts was a good thing.”
Defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley said the defense is really trying to emphasize flying to the football — effort to the football — this spring.
“We’ve got a bunch of guys back. The defense, we have some tweaks here and there, but for the most part you’ve got to run to the football,” said Scalley, who added that they’ve also got to tackle. “So fundamentals, technique, that’s what you’re looking for in spring ball. You’re not trying to out-scheme anyone. The University of Utah is not on our schedule, right? I haven’t seen Utah on our schedule. So we’re not trying to beat our offense. We’re trying to compete, but we’re trying to get better fundamentally and technically.”
Running to the ball, he continued, is when turnovers are created and positive plays happen.
EXTRA POINTS: Spring ball continues with practices Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Receivers Bronson Boyd, Jaylen Dixon and Demari Simpkins were among the players drawing individual praise from Whittingham after the first practice. Injuries are expected to keep defensive backs Philip Afia, Marquise Blair and Jaylon Johnson sidelined for camp. Same goes for offensive linemen Johnny Capra and Darren Paulo, as well as receiver Bryan Thompson.
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