This is the fourth in a series reviewing Pac-12 spring football camps. Today, Utah.
Starters returning – 16 (9 on offense, 7 on defense), plus two kickers.
Refresher on 2011 – In their first year in the Pac-12, Utes started 0-4 in league play, bounced back to the brink of an appearance in the first league-title game, then were upset at home as a three-touchdown favorite over Colorado. That put them in the Sun Bowl, where, in something of a miracle finish, they overcame a late two-touchdown deficit against Georgia Tech and beat the Yellow Jackets in overtime to complete an 8-5 season. DT Star Lotolelei won the Morris Trophy as the Pac-12’s top defensive lineman and he opted to return. QB Jordan Wynn sustained an injury to his left (non-throwing) shoulder against Washington. RB John White proved himself to be a legit Pac-12 back, rushing for a school-record 1,519 yards and ranking No. 3 in the nation with 316 carries.
Coaching changes – With veteran offensive coordinator Norm Chow landing the Hawaii job, Brian Johnson, quarterbacks coach, becomes the youngest OC in the country at 25. (As recently as the 2009 Sugar Bowl, Johnson was playing for the Utes.) There are three new arrivals: Dan Finn on the offensive line (from San Diego State), Ilaisa Tuiaki, fullbacks and tight ends (from Utah State), and Sharieff Shah, cornerbacks, who, believe it or not, was a trial attorney for five years before joining Kyle Whittingham’s staff. The ex-Utes safety (early 1990s) was once a certified NFL agent and after that, a commercial litigator. He has never coached.
Major spring concerns – Integrating Wynn back into the system after his injury rehab, as well as introducing the offense to two early-entry freshman QBs . . . developing some young linebackers to team with holdover Trevor Reilly . . . finding replacements for departed OTs Tony Bergstrom and John Cullen, who were first- and second-team All-Pac-12, respectively.
Developments – Wynn, now off two shoulder surgeries, took part in everything and looked healthy, as well as more buffed-up – like many of the Utes . . . Thretton Palamo (6-2, 250), who has a big background as an international rugby standout, is moving to defensive end from running back . . . On March 27, Whittingham began a ceremonial demolition of Utah’s football facility. A new $30 million replacement is due to be ready for a fall, 2013 opening . . . two freshman QBs, Parade All-American Chase Hansen (Highland, Utah) and 6-6 Travis Wilson, were in camp to battle Jon Hays for the backup job . . . Hays, who started after Wynn’s injury last year, could end up being the No. 4 QB as Whittingham says the position may be its deepest ever at Utah . . . Wynn threw downfield frequently, and Wilson completed 15 of 19 in his first two scrimmages . . . LB Reilly sat out some reps as the Utes tested younger players at a position where there’s some inexperience. V.J. Fehoko (5-11, 223), who won U.S. Army Bowl’s award as the “hardest hitter in the nation” in 2010, figures to be the MLB . . . the Kruger twins, Joe and Dave, starters on the DL, each added about 15 pounds . . . TE Jake Murphy got considerable time as others at a deep position were out nursing injuries. Murphy, son of former Atlanta Braves standout Dale Murphy, also proposed to his girlfriend – over the PA at a spring-training game in March – after throwing out the ceremonial first pitch to his dad . . . RB Harvey Langi (6-1, 230), whom Whittingham had talked up last spring, had a strong showing after a disappointing freshman season on the heels of a Utah prep career when he gained 4,000 yards-plus. Langi and JC product Kelvin York (5-11, 225) should take some of the load off White . . . Utah is hoping to get help at the OT spots from incoming JC tackles in the fall . . . Utes staged a fund-raising dinner to kick off their $150-million Invest in Excellence campaign, inviting their top 150 donors, or those who give more than $12,500 annually. Former safety Eric Weddle kicked in $250,000.
Spring game – Some 13,503 took in the Utes’ April 21 game, and saw a strong performance from QB Wilson, who completed eight of 12 for 72 yards and “has played well every single practice,” according to Whittingham. Wynn struggled, completing eight of 11 for 124 yards but throwing two picks and fumbling a snap . . . Langi’s two-point conversion throw to Quinton Pedroza, after a 50-yard TD reception by Reggie Dunn, gave the Red team a 22-21 victory over the Whites . . . per Utes tradition, the losing side and coaches in the spring game had to spend 30 minutes cleaning the team’s temporary football facility.
2012 schedule – Utes’ non-league foes are Northern Colorado, Utah State and BYU in order to open the season. League opener is at Arizona State Sept. 22, with a bye before a big game in Salt Lake City against USC. Once again, Utes miss Oregon and Stanford.