Utah football notes: Utes aim to showcase new offense (video)
Day one of the Dave Christensen offense wasn't the smoothest transition.
Getting up to speed was a challenge, to say the least.
"The tempo, to tell you the truth, when Coach Christensen first came in, it was something that caught us off guard," senior offensive lineman Junior Salt said. "We were getting a little tired, a little fatigued from this uptempo. We definitely have progressed."
When the Utes open their season on Thursday afternoon against Idaho State, expect fireworks. Although the game against the FCS opponent isn't supposed to be close, Utah fans will be scrutinizing the efficiency and effectiveness of the new offense, one which has promised to be faster and higher scoring than the Utah attacks of the past.
"Tempo would be one of the operative words," coach Kyle Whittingham said. "We're certainly will be snapping the ball more quickly than we have in years past. We've got to be more efficient in the throw game. Last few years we have not come anywhere near the numbers we need in throwing the football."
It's not as if the Utes haven't promised this before. The team has been through seven offensive coordinators in seven years, and last year's coordinator, Dennis Erickson, is still on staff as the running backs coach.
But the Utes hope that speed will be on their side this year. The entire offensive line lost weight during the offseason, and the team hopes that getting plays off more quickly in rapid succession will set opponents off-guard. If for no other reason, Utah is excited for this Thursday's game to show what they can do.
"We have a lot more weapons, definitely a lot more speed as well," junior Travis Wilson said. "I think the scheme we have this year is good and fits a lot of our players really well. I think we're going to use the uptempo to our advantage."
Freshmen set for action • The Utes haven't penciled in any true freshmen starters for Thursday's season opener, but there will be rookies out on the field for prime-time action. Whittingham mentioned Boobie Hobbs, Kenric Young, Tavaris Williams, Monte Seabrook and Marcus Williams as players who should see snaps against the Bengals. Safety Andre Godfrey is still recovering from an unspecified injury, but he'll play as well once he's healthy, Whittingham said.
Some of those reps will be on special teams, but some players will get positional work late in the game. The coaching staff likes the team speed it added this spring, and is looking for ways to use it.
"That's something we know we've been lacking, and we've worked hard to get that where it needs to be," he said. "That's going to be the same focal point in this next recruiting class, to increase the speed."
As for freshmen who may redshirt this year, Whittingham said the staff "has a good idea" who will sit out but won't officially make those decisions until Week four. All players are told to be ready to play until told otherwise, he said.
Hatfield still two-way player • It's been a while since the Utes had a two-way player: Eric Weddle in 2006.
That's a pretty lofty bar, but coaches are confident Dominique Hatfield will be able to make his mark on offense and defense when he plays both ways this Thursday. Whittingham has been impressed with Hatfield's development as a receiver, but also recognizes that the sophomore has natural skill set at corner.
"It was very apparent from the first rep that he took that he may have a future there," he said of Hatfield's role at cornerback. "He may very end up there full-time down the road. We'll let it shake out. But he will play both sides of the ball on Thursday."
Depth chart adjustments • A new depth chart was released on Monday with a few notable changes.
At receiver, Delshawn McClellon slid back into the starting slot role with Kaelin Clay right behind. Kenneth Scott is back at starting Z receiver across from Dres Anderson, with Tim Patrick now his backup.
Uaea Masina, who was dinged up midway through fall camp, has earned the starting nod at stud linebacker, with Pita Taumoepenu as his backup.
Unresolved positions on the depth chart include: Jason Fanaika and Hunter Dimick at left end; Clint Shepard, Sese Ianu and Lowell Lotulelei at nose tackle; Justin Thomas and Wykie Freeman at nickel cornerback; Devontae Booker and Kaelin Clay at kick returner; Bubba Poole and Kaelin Clay at punt returner.
Wilson OK with not being captain • When captains were announced on Saturday, one of the surprises was who wasn't among them: Wilson, despite being a captain last year, came in behind Junior Salt and Dres Anderson.
A few days after the voting, Wilson called it "an honor" to be a captain, but that he wasn't too disappointed that he did get the honor this year.
"It's all about the players voting for who they think is captain," he said. "Obviously I'm still a leader on this team, still a big part of this team, and I think a lot of kids know that. There's other ways I can lead on this team without necessarily being captain."
Quick hits • Idaho State isn't leaving Utah quaking in its boots: The Bengals haven't beaten an FBS opponent since 2000, and haven't won in their last 44 road games against any opponent. ... The Utes are actually 36-0 against teams currently in the Big Sky, so don't sweat it, Idaho State. ... Utah will have an increased stadium capacity thanks to 790 new seats from new bleacher rows that were formerly standing room only areas.
Kyle Goonkgoon@sltrib.comTwitter: @kylegoon