Utes head into spring football with lots of questions
How to sum up the Utes' 2011 spring practice session that starts Tuesday? How about there isn't much time and a lot to do.
Among the Utes' top priorities are: installing a new offense, breaking in new quarterbacks, adjusting key player moves and finding a new running back.
How is that agenda for a mere 15 practices? It's enough to keep the Utes plenty busy, said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham.
"We've got a lot to get accomplished," he said. "We've got to get everyone up to speed, establish a depth chart and get a good idea of what our pecking order is going to be."
Fans can see for themselves how the team develops since all practices are open to the public.
Scrimmages and the spring game, scheduled for April 16, will be held at Rice-Eccles Stadium and all other practices will be at the practice fields, weather permitting.
Here are the five most pressing questions facing the Utes as they head into spring ball.
1. What will the offense look like? • Norm Chow becomes the fourth coach to serve as offensive coordinator under Whittingham. The former UCLA assistant might bring the most dramatic changes yet as the Utes go to more of a West Coast offense than a spread offense.
"We're going to be a lot more under center, do a lot more in the downhill run game," Whittingham said. "We'll have some play-action-pass element off the run game and add some different route structures [Chow] is bringing."
Whittingham said the spread isn't totally dead, but he wants more emphasis on the run game, although he cautioned he wants the plays to be balanced, too.
"There is more of a power run game in the Pac-10 than there is in the Mountain West," he said. "But successful teams are very balanced and we want to play to the strengths of the players we have, particularly at QB."
2. Ahh, QB • Which QB would that be? For spring, it will be a battle between backup Griff Robles and newcomer Tyler Shreve while starter Jordan Wynn continues to rehab his shoulder.
Shreve has added 10 or 15 pounds since he has been with the Utes and is on a fast learning curve, Whittingham said.
Robles is the guy with the experience, albeit a limited amount. He played in four games, with one incomplete pass, and rushed 17 times for 124 yards.
He drew praise for his work ethic and was good enough at the end of the season for the Utah coaches to craft a few plays to get him into the game.
As for Wynn, Whittingham said his rehab continues to go well.
"Obviously we'd like him to be there," he said. "But if there is a positive side to it, it's that Griff and Tyler will have a good chance to develop by getting all the reps."
3. Who is Utah's running back going to be? • The Utes lost Matt Asiata and Eddie Wide while another back, Shawn Asiata, left the program.
The battle for running back in the spring should be one of the biggest themes, with transfer John White and freshman Harvey Langi getting many of the reps.
The Utes are moving 6-foot-1, 201-pound receiver Luke Matthews to running back as well.
"We feel good about our depth at receiver and we don't have any depth at running back," Whittingham said of the move. "Luke played a lot of running back in high school and if it doesn't work out, it won't be much of an adjustment for him to move back."
4. What about that other running back? • The 5-foot-9, 187-pound Lucky Radley, who had most of the snaps with the scout team last year, has moved to cornerback, where the Utes need replacements for Brandon Burton and Lamar Chapman.
The Utes have a knack for taking offensive-minded players and turning them into corners. Let's see if Radley is the next in that line.
5. Where are the defense's strengths? • The linebacker corps should be Utah's strength this year, particularly with freshman standout Brian Blechen moving from safety to linebacker.
J.J. Williams, who is rehabbing from foot surgery, will be in the mix for a starting role in the fall along with returners Chaz Walker and Matt Martinez.
Two up-and-comers to watch are Jacoby Hale and V.J. Fehoko.
Backup Boo Andersen has been moved to fullback.
"He's a 6-1, 230-pound prototypical physical fullback," Whittingham said. "He is a guy who thrives on contact and likes to play smash-mouth football."
2011 Utah spring football schedule
• March 8, Tuesday (no pads), 2:25 p.m.
• March 10, Thursday (no pads), 2:25 p.m.
• March 12, Saturday (tackle), 9:25 a.m.
• March 15, Tuesday (no tackle), 2:25 p.m.
• March 17, Thursday (tackle), 2:25 p.m.
• March 18-27 - spring break
• March 28, Monday (tackle), 3 p.m.
• March 30, Wednesday(no tackle), 2:25 p.m.
• April 1, Friday,scrimmage, 3:30 p.m.
• April 5, Tuesday (tackle), 2:25 p.m.
• April 7, Thursday (no tackle), 2:25 p.m.
• April 9, Saturday,scrimmage, 9:30 a.m.
• April 12, Tuesday(tackle), 2:25 p.m.
• April 14, Thursday(no tackle), 2:25 p.m.
• April 15, Friday(no pads), 4 p.m.
• April 16, Saturday, Spring Game, 1 p.m.