When the shoulder pads come on, it’s generally an offensive lineman’s time to shine.
But after the first day of Utes practice that featured real contact, coach Kyle Whittingham found himself wanting a little more from the big guys up front.
Highlights » Running back Devontae Booker brought some football sound effects to the no-tackle practice, particularly on one run up the middle when he collided violently with a succession of Utah defenders.
Standouts » Redshirt freshmen running backs Troy McCormick and Dre’Vian Young both had longish runs, showing off the speed and cutting ability that give Utah coaches a change-of-pace option from Bubba Poole and Devontae Booker.
Position spotlight » Whittingham said solid work from his linebackers caught his eye Wednesday. There is a clear No. 1 and No. 2 group. No. 1, not surprisingly, are Jared Norris and Jason Whittingham. No. 2 are Uaea Masina and Marcus Sanders-Williams, who continues to transition smoothly after being moved over from running back in late spring.
Quote of the day » On the team’s new uniforms, which arrived just in time for player head shots, Whittingham said: “To be honest with you, I pay no attention to uniforms and all that stuff. I just, I just don’t care. I know the players do, and that’s important … but I don’t even think I saw a picture of them.”
"So-so," he said, evaluating the line. "We’re not getting enough knock-off, knocking the defensive line off the line of scrimmage. Now we’ve got a hard defensive line to knock off the line of scrimmage. They’re going to be challenged every day."
In the media’s 20-minute window, there were a few notable miscues that left quarterbacks Travis Wilson and Kendal Thompson scrambling from pass rushers in full team drills. It’s a work in progress, offensive line coach Jim Harding said, and that’s not too much of a surprise.
Still, there’s been encouraging factors as well. A few holes opened up for Dre’Vian Young, Troy McCormick and DeVontae Booker for gashing runs. That, Harding said, has been a result of film study that has allowed the line to correct a few of its flaws. As an example, he cited a change that freshman tackle Jackson Barton made to open up the ground game on one particularly long run.
There’s also the fast tempo of Dave Christensen’s offense, which is working more smoothly now than it was a few months ago.
"We would’ve had two tempo violations on the line in the first three practices, which is better than we did in the first three days of spring," Harding said. "I’ll never say it’s perfect. We can always do better, but I think the conditioning level has improved."
There’s a battle at right tackle that’s ongoing, and Harding said he’s looking at Barton and sophomore J. J. Dielman for the job. But another contender could be senior Marc Pouvave, whom Harding mentioned as a strong performer in the first few days of camp.
Walk-on receiver contributing quickly
A few Utes walk-ons have quickly earned some attention, and count receiver Tim Patrick among them.
The 6-foot-5 wideout from Grossmont College has made a handful of catches in the media viewing sessions, and Whittingham said called him a "pleasant surprise."
"He’s a guy we hope continues on an upward plane," he said. "If he does, he’s going to help us this year without a doubt."
The big-bodied Patrick was also a small forward for the Grossmont basketball team, and the athleticism has shown when he has made some tough catches in the middle of the field. Patrick said he had a chance to earn scholarships elsewhere this spring, but several programs dropped out when they heard he had to finish a large courseload for his final semester.
Their loss is Utah’s gain: Patrick has two years to play two seasons, and he’s already the tallest receiver in a crowded field. He doesn’t lack confidence, either.
"Guys who are my height, we’re usually the big tight ends and don’t have a lot of speed," he said. "I’m faster than that."
Whittingham gave a few updates on players who have been injured or otherwise out since the start of camp: Receiver and special teams ace Geoffrey Norwood and defensive lineman Daniel Nielson are expected to be back in 3-4 weeks from undisclosed injuries. Lineman Moana Ofahengaue is out indefinitely with medical issues related to his motorbike accident in February.
Two planned Utes newcomers will wait at least one more season before getting on the field. Whittingham announced freshman receiver Raelon Singleton will undergo surgery for an undisclosed issue, and will redshirt this year. Junior college transfer Pasoni Tasini, a defensive lineman, won’t join the team until next January. Whittingham did not give a reason for Tasini’s delay.
Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.