Utah receiver Sean Fitzgerald is smiling a lot these days. He likes the changes offensive coordinator Brian Johnson has made, he likes his teammates and, most importantly, he likes how his body feels.
Fitzgerald has had his share of injuries in recent seasons, including a hamstring injury that hampered him in 2011, but now he feels healthy and like he can contribute to the Utes’ offense.
“I do feel good,” he said. “I’ve had a good camp, and I’m ready to get the season going.”
If all goes well, Fitzgerald will back up senior Luke Matthews. Breaking into Utah’s regular receiving rotation is no small feat, considering the depth the Utes have there.
With DeVonte Christopher and Dres Anderson returning to lead the group, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham believes they represent the best receivers the Utes have had.
The Utes lack a game-breaker like Steve Smith was, Whittingham said, but he likes the receivers’ overall talent.
“Top to bottom, one through eight, we have a bunch of guys who work hard and are very productive,” he said.
Fitzgerald will remain in that top group, as long as he can stay healthy.
“He’s an excellent blocker, reliable and dependable and never makes mental mistakes,” Whittingham said. “He has had hamstrings and nagging injuries that have kept him off the field, but if he’s able to stay healthy, he’ll definitely be a traveler for us.”
Defensive back Reggie Topps, who was suspended in the spring for breaking team rules, will sit out the first game, then be fully reinstated, Whittingham said. Topps had 33 tackles last year and is Utah’s most experienced nickel back.
Getting him on the field will be a boost for the Utes, who lack experience at the position.
Sophomore Wykie Freeman is listed as the starter.
Also missing the first game will be safety Brian Blechen, who is under a three-game suspension for breaking team rules. Whittingham said Topps and Blechen are the only two players who will miss the opener due to disciplinary reasons.
Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott isn’t the only one who doesn’t believe coaches should vote — Whittingham wouldn’t mind seeing the coaches poll eliminated, either.
Whittingham, who has voted in the coaches poll in the past but wasn’t asked to do so this year, said coaches don’t have time to do proper research for an informed ballot.
“We’ve all got tunnel vision going on,” he said. “All we see are ESPN highlights, and that isn’t an accurate barometer. I agree with him; I’ve thought that for years.”
Whittingham said things should be settled on the field, not in the polls.
“An eight-team playoff, that is what I am for,” he said. “You win your conference, you make the playoffs. You win the playoffs, you win the national championship.”