New Utah special teams coach Kyle Whittingham asked his kicker how far the offense needed to advance for a field goal.
"Coach, I’m good from 57."
Granted, it was indoors at Spence Eccles Field House and the Utes will be in the elements for all 12 regular season games in 2014, but sophomore Andy Phillips drilled a 52-yarder to end practice Thursday and "he probably would have hit 57," Whittingham said.
In the honorable mention All-Pac 12 Phillips, Whittingham inherits a "proven commodity" who, ironically, had never played in a football game until last August.
Far less proven is the Utes’ offense under new coordinator Dave Christensen, and Thursday’s indoor practice gave onlookers little insight into what to expect come fall. Just a third of the way through spring, Utah is still working to install plays and lock in blocking assignments.
The emphasis on tempo has been obvious as coaches use a 20-second play clock when the offense and defense square off. Less talked-about and — to be clear — just one layperson’s observation: Utah rarely seems to use two-tight end sets and more often seems to pass to running backs.
While the offense won the day in live work on Tuesday, they played to a more subdued draw in a no-tackle session Thursday.
Whittingham — also the head coach, dontcha know — said that the Utes are on target five practices in: Linebacker, running backs and the offensive line look strong; cornerbacks have shown improvement over last year; quarterback is still an unknown but Travis Wilson’s clearance to practice is positive. "One big negative": that Utah’s likely starters at defensive tackle — junior Viliseni Fauonuku, sophomore Stevie Tu’ikolovatu and senior Sese Ianu are banged up and unlikely to return until fall.
Whittingham said more of the all-important separation between starters and their backups will be found Saturday.
"A big portion of the practice will be live work on Saturday, so we’ll get another good look at the guys and see where we’re at," he said.
OFFENSIVE HIGHLIGHT » Sophomore receivers Dominique Hatfield and Delshawn McClellon may not have gotten a ton of pub, but each has made a handful of big plays this spring. Thursday it was Hatfield going up to "high point" a sideline pass from redshirt freshman quarterback Conner Manning in tight coverage.
DEVENSIVE HIGHLIGHT » Junior linebacker Gionni Paul snagged a pass from Manning and almost had another interception later during practice.
STANDOUT » Junior running back Devontae Booker. Read about that here. But here’s a bonus standout: senior Eric Rowe. He continues to work with the cornerbacks and hold his own in drills against the Utah receivers, often facing 6-foot-3, 208-pound junior Kenneth Scott. Scott got the better of him a couple of times Thursday, but Rowe never makes it easy.
KEEP AN EYE ON » Defensive end Pita Taumoepenu. Just a sophomore and listed at just 225 pounds, Taumoepenu has incredible burst and frequently knifes through Utah’s offensive line and hurries the passer. Freshman left tackle Jackson Barton recently named the Timpview product in the same breath as senior Nate Orchard, and it’s easy to see why.
QUOTE OF THE DAY » Junior Bubba Poole, on whether or not Booker has earned admission to the Ute running backs’ self-titled "Lets Get It" group: "Once you start making some plays, then we kind of put you under our wing and start claiming you. So yeah, he did his work, his fair share."
— Matthew Piper
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