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Matt Piper and Kyle Goon
Matt Piper and Kyle Goon cover University of Utah sports teams for The Salt Lake Tribune. Matt Piper is on twitter at @matthew_piper, Kyle Goon is on twitter at @kylegoon

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Utah football: Whittingham touts ‘makeover’ at three positions

It’s apparent from the sidelines: This is not quite the same team you saw this spring.

With few known injuries and an influx of freshmen, walk-ons and transfers, Utah has more talent than it’s had for years, said head coach Kyle Whittingham on Day Two of fall camp.

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In particular, "We’ve had a complete makeover at three positions: wide receiver, defensive line and safety," he said. "Those positions look completely different than they did in spring with the addition of new players and getting a bunch of guys back who were injured in spring."

Breaking those personnel groups down:

1. At receiver, they add junior college transfer Kaelin Clay, expected to compete for a starting job. Additional additions include scholarship freshmen Kenric Young and Jameson Field, and walk-ons Tim Patrick, Dominick Ela and James Holland, among others. Junior Kenneth Scott is also back making 11 vs. 11 plays — like snagging a deep Kendal Thompson pass in coverage Tuesday — after being limited in spring out of caution.

2. At defensive tackle, Utah brings in freshman tackle Lowell Lotulelei ("[He’s] added a ton to that position," Whittingham said) and back from injuries that kept them out for part or all of spring camp are Stevie Tu’ikolovatu, Viliseni Fauonuku, Sam Tevi and Sese Ianu. "That should be, as always, a position of strength for us," Whittingham said.

3. At safety, junior college transfer Tevin Carter is finally healthy enough to practice and start learning the defense first-hand, and as of now, he and Brian Blechen are slated to occupy the free and strong spots, respectively. No spot is safe, though, and that includes safety. Behind them are Charles Henderson and former receiver Brian Allen (who has done "remarkably well," despite little defensive background, Whittingham said), and freshmen Marcus Williams, Andre Godfrey and Monte Seabrook.

***

Pace pays off » The much-ballyhooed tempo was where it needed to be again in Day Two, Whittingham said after practice. And even better, the tempo is causing very few mistakes, he said.

New offensive coordinator Dave Christensen has them playing at a speed akin to "Fast-break basketball on turf," Whittingham said. "It’s nonstop. Each season it seems that more and more teams go to this. That’s the direction it’s heading and so we’ve got to get used to it."

Senior wideout Dres Anderson said the key is mental strength.

"It can break you down and mess up your technique a little bit," Anderson said, but, "if you execute at that pace, it’s just so lethal, and it can really damage a defense."

In the final 20 minutes of practice observed by media, the defense appeared to get the better of the offense, and sure enough when they stopped to huddle, roars came from the men in black shirts. But Whittingham cautioned against drawing any conclusions from that. It was the first time the offense saw the defense’s blitzes, he said, and it’s standard for the offense to have a "lag period" for the first five or six days.

***

Look on the right side » "That spot is still being competed for," Whittingham said, acknowledging that while he feels that the Utes have an embarrassment of riches on the line, there is uncertainty about who will start on the ride side.

At right tackle, Whittingham mentioned Andrew Albers and true freshman Jackson Barton as potential contenders. Sophomore J.J. Dielman is another guy in the hunt, and it remains a possibility to slide Isaac Asiata out of the right guard spot — where he is practicing, Whittingham said — and replace him with redshirt freshman Salesi Uhatafe. The latter option reflects the pre-camp depth chart.

Whittingham said Barton could stand to gain 10 to 15 pounds of "solid weight," but added, "Where he is right now, relative to being eight months out of high school, is pretty remarkable."

***

Quarterbacks, because, duh » Whittingham said on second day of the duel between Travis Wilson and Kendal Thompson that it’s an "interesting battle."

"Travis is looking really good. Kendal is making some plays. The other guys who are getting their reps are making the most of them. ... But right now it’s Travis and Kendal battling it out, and Travis is still Number One, and Kendal’s Number Two."

Whittingham said it was fair to say that Wilson has the better arm. Thompson’s strength is his "escapability," and that his abilities don’t show as much in one-on-one routes as they do in 11 vs. 11 play. When quarterbacks extend the play like Thompson can, "it’s demoralizing to the defense," Whittingham said.

***

Highlights » Wilson floated a gorgeous deep ball down the right sideline to freshman Kenric Young, who ran stride-for-stride with sophomore Reginald Porter. Young went up and met the ball at its highest point, but so did Porter, and as they fell to the ground, Porter ripped it loose for an incompletion. The coverage couldn’t have been tighter if they wore the same jersey, and Young was one of the fastest preps in the nation over 200 meters last year.

Standout » It’s hard not to like sophomore defensive end Pita Taumoepenu. The only thing faster than Taumoepenu pass rush is his smile. Our mission is impartiality, so of course we’re neutral about it, but others seemed to enjoy Taumoepenu’s exuberance after he batted down a Thompson pass at the line. At 6-foot-1, 230 pounds, he’s small for a defensive end, but size doesn’t matter when he breaks free to the backfield, and he does so frequently.

Position spotlight » Besides Porter, Whittingham highlighted the improvement of all his returning corners, and freshmen Casey Hughes and Travonne Hobbs also took snaps with the ones and twos on Tuesday. "We went from a position that was pretty lean last year to a position that is pretty well-stacked," he said.

Quote of the day » Told that the media is only allowed to watch the final 20 minutes of practice, Whittingham feigned astonishment. "How come? Is that all [Sports Information Director Liz Abel] will let you in? She runs a tight ship."

— Matthew Piper

mpiper@sltrib.com

Twitter: @matthew_piper



Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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