SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's football team kicks off its spring practices up on the hill Tuesday. The first of 15 sessions begins a five-week run that culminates with the annual red-white game on Saturday, April 19.
In gearing up for his 10th season as head coach of the Utes, Kyle Whittingham said the main thrust and focus of spring ball “is to make everybody better fundamentally and technique-wise and find out who your players are.”
After back-to-back 5-7 seasons and a three-year decline in Pac-12 victories, the Utes have employed new faces on the coaching staff and are searching for answers at several positions on the field.
This spring could, in fact, prove pivotal in the search for solutions — a good start, anyhow.
Besides 12 practices, three scrimmages are scheduled — April 4 (4 p.m.), April 12 (10 a.m.) and April 19 (1 p.m.). All spring sessions are open to the public, except for those moved indoors (space limitations) by inclement weather.
Utah’s spring football storylines, however, are expected to blossom regardless. Among those to watch:
COACHING CHANGES — The departures of co-offensive coordinator Brian Johnson, special teams coordinator Jay Hill and offensive line coach Dan Finn and the arrival of new offensive coordinator Dave Christensen, offensive line coach Jim Harding and wide receivers coach Taylor Stubblefield has altered the landscape on an offense in need of a boost. Other moves include Dennis Erickson coaching the running backs without the additional title of co-offensive coordinator and the move of Aaron Roderick from receivers to quarterbacks coach.
In addition, Whittingham will now oversee the special teams.
WILSON’S RETURN — Junior quarterback Travis Wilson is back on top of the depth chart after being cleared to participate in noncontact drills this spring. Wilson missed Utah’s last three games after an intracranial artery injury was detected in concussion tests. Full medical clearance, however, is not expected until this summer.
In the meantime, Wilson will compete alongside five other scholarship quarterbacks this spring. Junior Adam Schulz, who started in Wilson’s place last season, enters spring ball as the No. 2 quarterback. Three redshirt freshmen — Brandon Cox, Conner Manning and Micah Thomas — are also in the mix. Wyoming transfer Jason Thompson is also in camp. However, the junior isn’t eligible to play in games until 2015.
Oklahoma transfer Kendal Thompson will join the Utes for fall camp. He’s scheduled to receive his bachelor’s degree in May and will then enroll at Utah as a graduate student with two years of immediate eligibility.
IN AND OUT — Senior Brian Blechen and junior Kenneth Scott, who were sidelined with injuries last season, are back and projected as starters at strong safety and wide receiver, respectively.
Four new signees — freshman lineman Jackson Barton, junior running back Devontae Booker, freshman defensive tackle Alani Havili-Katoa and senior safety Tevin Carter — are also expected to be on the field this spring.
Several Utes, though, will be out or limited to certain noncontact drills. The group includes defensive tackle Sese Ianu, right guard Junior Salt and linebacker Jason Whittingham, who are projected starters this fall. Others out for spring, but in for fall, include safety Tevin Carter, running back Lucky Radley, defensive lineman Sam Tevi, defensive tackle Stevie Tu’ikolovatu and offensive lineman Derek Tuimauga.
All outdoor practices and scrimmages are open to the public — at the field west of the Spence and Cleone Eccles Football Center and at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Any practices moved indoors to the Spence Eccles Field House, however, will be closed to the public because of space limitations.
Tuesday, March 18: 3-5 p.m. — Practice field
Thursday, March 20: 3-5 p.m. — Practice field
Saturday, March 22: 10 a.m.-12 p.m. — Rice-Eccles Stadium
Tuesday, March 25: 3-5 p.m. — Practice field
Thursday, March 27: 3-5 p.m. — Practice field
Saturday, March 29: 10 a.m.-12 p.m. — Rice-Eccles Stadium
Tuesday, April 1: 3-5 p.m. — Practice field
Thursday, April 3: 3-5 p.m. — Practice field
Friday, April 4: 4 p.m. (scrimmage) — Rice-Eccles Stadium
Tuesday, April 8: 3-5 p.m. — Practice field
Thursday, April 10: 3-5 p.m. — Practice field
Saturday, April 12: 10 a.m. (scrimmage) — Rice-Eccles Stadium
Tuesday, April 15: 3-5 p.m. — Practice field
Thursday, April 17: 3-5 p.m. — Practice field
Saturday, April 19: 1 p.m. (Red-White Game) — Rice-Eccles Stadium