It didn’t matter who was under center at the end of practice Saturday.
The Ute offense, starting from its own 20-yard line, was ushered moonwalking back to its own goal line by the defensive line’s pressure, the receivers’ inability to create separation, and the whole unit’s struggle to get a play off using the Utah coaches’ 20-second clock.
But offensive futility is "almost always the case this time of the year," said head coach Kyle Whittingham. What’s important to the Utah coaches is that the tempo is improving and players are buying in to new offensive coordinator Dave Christensen’s approach.
"It’s the same principle, same philosophy, as far running the spread, but the tempo is much faster than what they’re used to and it’s going to take some time," Whittingham said. "We’d be in trouble if the defense was not ahead of the offense right now."
Emotions reached a fever pitch at times on the team’s first day in pads, with QB Adam Schulz banging helmets against defensive end Nate Orchard after he arm-tackled running back Devontae Booker and some sideline observers saying they witnessed a brief altercation between quarterback Travis Wilson and linebacker Gionni Paul.
Next week the Utes will hold their first two tackle practice days — Monday and Saturday — and players will have their chance to take out their aggressions.
For the offense, that might make for some sore evenings if they don’t speed the pace of their spring thaw. That’d be OK, though, said Christensen.
"It’s a whole new learning process going on right now. There are a lot of guys making an improvement on a daily basis, and that’s what we look for."
OFFENSIVE HIGHLIGHT » On a day when most of the highlights came on the other side of the ball, Alta High product Harrison Handley unfurled his 6-foot-6 frame to reel in a pretty, 40-yard toss down the left sideline from redshirt freshman quarterback Brandon Cox.
DEFENSIVE HIGHLIGHT » For the second time this week, Orchard denied Travis Wilson on a pass at the line of scrimmage. He didn’t bring it down one-handed this time, as he did Tuesday, but in channeling his inner Dikembe Mutombo and batting it into the end zone, he earned himself some more finger-wagging. "He’s frustrated about that," Orchard said.
STANDOUTS » Junior safety Charles Henderson — looking to impress while junior college safety Tevin Carter recovers from injury — picked off a Wilson pass at full stretch and stayed square with receivers in sideline tackling drills. On offense, Whittingham singled out running backs Booker, a junior transfer, and redshirt freshman Troy McCormick for their performances.
KEEP AN EYE ON » Brandon Cox. There wasn’t a whole lot said about Cox after practice, but he made four or five of the days nicest touch passes. Whittingham said that Wilson remains the clear No. 1, but more days like this might give Cox a leg up in the battle for backup.
QUOTE OF THE DAY » Whittingham, on the chippiness: "Thank goodness! You want skirmishes. A few of them. That means they’re competitive and they’re getting after it."
— Matthew Piper
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