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Utah football: Utes end camp with confidence, chemistry

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Jake Murphy runs the ball during the University of Utah's Red-White Spring football game, Saturday, April 20, 2013, in Salt Lake City.

By Lya Wodraska

The Salt Lake Tribune

First published Aug 23 2013 12:13PM
Updated Feb 14, 2014 11:33PM

Does a happy football team translate into a winning one? The Utah Utes can only hope so as they close camp saying they had more confidence and chemistry than at any point last year.

So what if the Utes still have question marks remaining about their defensive lineup, and their revamped offense is unproven going into the Utes’ toughest schedule in school history? The Utes believe they have all the makings of a team that can stir things up in the Pac-12.

Bolstering their confidence are the good vibes they have fostered in their new training facility and on the field.

"That has been the biggest difference, the positive energy going through the team," Utah tight end Jake Murphy said in comparing this camp to previous ones. "There is just a great team bond this year."

Murphy said the leaders of the team made it a point to create that bond by getting to know newcomers and spending time with them.

It helped too that the Utes also have their new $32 million facility at their disposal — complete with video games, large screen TVs and other elements that have encouraged the players to interact more.

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said he didn’t anticipate that happening, but likes it.

"It has helped morale turn 180 degrees," he said. "The place has everything they need and it’s a relaxing place for them to spend their down time. It has changed the entire persona of the team."

Both Whittingham and Murphy said chemistry wasn’t an issue last year — put the blame for all those losses on an inept offense — but both said the mojo should help Utah in 2013.

Also helping is a retooled offense that got "better and better," through camp, according to co-offensive coordinator Dennis Erickson.

The passing game had some rough moments with receivers plagued by dropped balls and blocking being an issue, but it improved enough to satisfy Erickson.

"Travis [Wilson] is throwing well and the tight ends and receivers are catching it well," he said. "It was a goal of ours to become a better passing team and we got better in the spring and better here."

But as much emphasis as there is on a need to improve the passing game, the Utes still plan to start with the run.

That is a position that has boosted the team’s outlook as much as the fancy building. Erickson believes he can use all four backs — Kelvin York, James Poole, Lucky Radley and Karl Williams.

"All of them give a different look," he said.

York is the primary back but Poole, who is more elusive, finished camp strong.

Also finishing strong were receivers Dres Anderson and Kenneth Scott. Finding depth at the position remains an issue, but Erickson plans to use tight ends Westlee Tonga and Jake Murphy extensively.

The defensive side has more issues, with the corners still being a "work in progress," in Whittingham’s estimation. Getting that position straightened out may not happen until the Utes are well into the season.

At least for now, though, the Utes feel good enough about their team to say they are heading into the season confident. That is saying a lot for a team coming off a losing season.

"We’re definitely ready," Wilson said. "We’ve all been working hard and we have a lot of motivation this year. It’s going to be exciting."

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