Forget the fact he is 65 years old and recently had a hip replacement — Dennis Erickson is so eager to start spring practice with the Utah Utes, he might just outsprint all those youngsters to get to the field.
"I am so excited to coach again. This is what I do," he said. "I haven’t been nervous about coaching for a lot of years, but I am anxious to see where we are and what we can get installed."
Utah spring practice schedule
Practices held outside are open to the public.
March 19 » 2:45-4:45 p.m. (no pads)
March 21 » 2:45-4:45 p.m. (no pads)
March 23 » 10 a.m.-Noon (no tackle)
March 26 » 2:45-4:45 p.m. (tackle)
March 28 » 2:45-4:45 p.m. (no tackle)
March 30 » 10 a.m.-Noon (tackle)
April 2 » 2:45-4:45 p.m. (tackle)
April 4 » 2:45-4:45 p.m. (no tackle)
April 5 » 4-6 p.m. (scrimmage)
April 9 » 2:45-4:45 p.m. (tackle)
April 11 » 2:45-4:45 p.m. (no tackle)
April 13 » 10 a.m.-Noon (scrimmage)
April 16 » 2:45-4:45 p.m. (tackle)
April 18 » 2:45-4:45 p.m. (no pads)
April 20 » 1 p.m. Spring Game
Utah spring rundown
Players to watch
Offense » Junior Salt should make an impact on the offensive line after the highly touted player missed the 2012 season with an injury. He was moved from defense to offense last year. Also keep an eye on freshman quarterback Brandon Cox, who will be competing with Adam Schulz to be Travis Wilson’s backup.
Defense » With Trevor Reilly sitting out spring ball with an injury, the left end position will be an interesting battle between Thretton Palamo and Moses Folauhola. The cornerback spots are up for grabs, too, with returner Wykie Freeman sitting out practice due to injury.
Special teams » Redshirt freshman Jamie Sutcliffe is penciled in as the kicker after backup Nick Marsh decided to transfer and Coleman Petersen graduated.
Erickson, who was brought out of retirement to be the Utes’ co-offensive coordinator alongside Brian Johnson, will get his first look at the Utes in action when Utah opens spring practice Tuesday.
The challenge is to liven up Utah’s offense enough to make it dangerous without completely overhauling it to the point the Utes are faced with another transition year. Can the Utes get that done? Well, they aren’t paying Erickson $275,000 a year to just hang out and tell stories about the old days.
His first priority is to speed up Utah’s offense. The Utes averaged only 66.4 plays a game last year. In Erickson’s mind, a good team should average in at least the 70s and ideally in the 80s.
"We might not go ramp speed," he said. "But we are going to do a lot of no-huddle. We are going to put a lot of emphasis on the short passing routes, which you have to practice a lot to become good. I am a firm believer you have to get something established and branch off that. We are going to start with everything the same and keep it as simple as possible to go from point A to point B."
Things have been anything but simple for the Utes in recent seasons as the offense has dealt with coaching changes and injuries at the quarterback position.
However, Utah hopes it can establish more consistency with Travis Wilson at quarterback and an improved offensive line. After spending the majority of his time since he was hired in February watching film and strategizing with Utah’s other offensive coaches, Erickson believes the Utes aren’t far off from being a good offense, even if they ranked near or last in the Pac-12 in the major offensive categories last year.
"Watching Utah the last couple years, they’ve been darn good, but the injuries have been horrible," he said. "We’ve been putting our minds together and what we want to do is simplify the run game, and do almost everything out of the shotgun offense with three wides or four wides or two tight ends and still run the same play."
Erickson believes he has the makings of a good quarterback in Wilson, who finished 128 for 204 for 1,311 yards, seven touchdowns and six interceptions in his rookie campaign.
Another key spot to watch during spring will be at running back, where returner Kelvin York has the edge on the starting role. Lucky Radley and James Poole are listed as his backups, but that could change after Devontae Booker and the other running backs Utah signed in the spring arrive.
"I think Kelvin can be a perfect fit," Erickson said. "But you need two backs for sure for a change of pace. You want a solid, strong fast guy and you like to bring a guy in who is shifty and quick. Both have to be quick, but one probably catches better than the other and is a break-it-open kind of guy."
Copyright 2013 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.