The Utes have a lot going for them as they begin spring football practice. They also must replace six NFL prospects.
Utah will conduct three sessions, then take a break before resuming March 19.
(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune file photo) Utah defensive back Julian Blackmon (23) covers a receiver during football practice, Monday, August 7, 2017. Blackmon is moving to safety as a senior.
Two linebackers, two kickers, an offensive tackle and a safety.
Utah's needs of personnel discoveries in spring football practice, beginning Monday, are conveniently packaged into selected position groups and align with the players the Utes sent to the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. The program lost only three other senior starters, also from the offensive line and secondary, so those are the obvious areas of interest in March and April for the Pac-12 South's defending champions.
Four projected starters will miss spring practice, due to injury: running back Zack Moss
, receiver Britain Covey, defensive tackle Pita Tonga and linebacker Francis Bernard
. Receiver Samson Nacua is the most prominent player among others who will be sidelined.
Quarterback Tyler Huntley is healthy after missing the last five games of the 2018 season with a broken collarbone and is listed as the starter, ahead of Jason Shelley. Texas transfer Cameron Rising
will participate in the spring; Utah is petitioning the NCAA for him to be eligible in 2019, rather than having to sit out one season.
Utah’s spring football practices are open to the public, as long as the weather allows the sessions to be held outdoors. The first week’s schedule is 3-4:45 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday on the McCarthey Practice Fields, west of the Spence and Cleone Eccles Football Center.
The Utes will stage three sessions prior to the school’s spring break, then practice three days a week from March 19 through the Red-White Game on April 13. Three new coaches will be on the field this spring, although Sione Po’uha (defensive tackles) was involved in Holiday Bowl preparations after being hired in December. The others are offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Andy Ludwig and linebackers coach Colton Swan.
Here’s how the Utes will look to replace their NFL draft prospects and other departed players:
Utah must find replacements for Chase Hansen and Cody Barton, possibly the best tandem in school history, in a defensive scheme that generally has two linebackers on the field. Penn State transfer Manny Bowen is listed as a starter in the spring. Bernard, who played a lot at the end of last season and started in the Holiday Bowl in Hansen’s absence, is the other probable starter. While he’s sidelined in the spring, sophomore Devin Lloyd will have a big opportunity, along with Stanford transfer Sione Lund.
Donavan Thompson, who was the team’s No. 3 linebacker last season before being overtaken by Bernard, has left the program.
Julian Blackmon’s move from cornerback
to free safety was among the Utes’ biggest offseason developments. That reflects the coaching staff’s belief in the other corners, including Tareke Lewis, and the need for help at safety, with vacancies left by Corrion Ballard and combine participant Marquise Blair.
Terrell Burgess is listed as the starting strong safety, backed up by Vonte Davis, with Philip Afia having left the program.
Left tackle Jackson Barton is at the combine, and right guard Jordan Agasiva and center/guard Lo Falemaka also must be replaced.
Darrin Paulo has moved from right tackle to left tackle, with junior college tackle Bamidele Olaseni coming to compete for a starting job in August. For now, Mo Unutoa is the right tackle, with Paul Toala at right guard. Part-time starters Orlando Umana (center) and Nick Ford (left guard) are the other first-team linemen on the depth chart.
The Utes lost kicker Matt Gay and punter Mitch Wishnowsky, each a national award winner and combine participant. Chayden Johnston, who initially beat out Gay for the job in 2018, redshirted last season and has three years of eligibility. Ben Lennon, a 24-year-old freshman, is on campus. He’s expected to extend Utah’s tradition of Australian punters to more than a decade, by the end of his college career.