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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.
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."