Second in our series on Pac-12 spring football camps. Today, the Utah Utes:
Starters returning – 12 (6 offense, 6 defense) plus P Tom Hackett.
Refresher on 2012 – Offensive shortcomings, partly due to an early season-ending shoulder injury to QB Jordan Wynn, spelled the end of Utah’s string of nine straight bowl appearances, as the Utes went 5-7. Coach Kyle Whittingham dropped to 7-11 in Pac-12 games in two seasons after going 21-3 in the Utes’ final three years in the Mountain West.
Coaching changes — After turning the offensive reins over to 25-year-old assistant Brian Johnson after the 2011 season upon the departure of veteran Norm Chow, Whittingham backtracked and imported well-traveled Dennis Erickson, veteran of three Pac-12 head-coaching jobs and two in the NFL. Erickson and Johnson will be co-coordinators, but the offense is largely considered Erickson’s baby.
Major spring concerns – Establishing order at QB . . . sorting out replacement candidates for RB John White . . . patching big losses on the defensive line, especially high draft pick Star Lotulelei . . . finding replacements at CB.
Developments – Overriding theme of the spring was improvement on offense, after Whittingham added Erickson. Utes and Erickson installed spread principles and generally led the defense through most of the spring session . . . QB Travis Wilson, who played as a freshman in 2012 after Wynn’s departure, was locked up in a battle with ex-walk-on Adam Schulz but Whittingham said Wilson’s spring-game performance “put some separation” between the two . . . WRs coach Aaron Roderick made his charges wear numbers in the 30s and 40s until the spring game, saying he wanted them to establish a blue-collar mentality . . . RB Karl Williams, 6-0, 243-pound transfer from Southern Utah, was a force through much of the session, as likely starter Kelvin York sat out most of it with turf toe . . . depth emerged at RB, and JC product Devontae Booker (5-11, 205) arrives in the fall . . . Whittingham and Erickson each talked up the O-line, and Utes are touting 6-5, 345-pound sophomore LT Jeremiah Poutasi as an All-American candidate . . . Utes think DT Tenny Palepoi (6-2, 300), Snow JC product, could make a breakthrough . . . they want to move S Brian Blechen to LB, which depends on solid play from junior Tyron Morris-Edwards at safety, plus incoming JC Tevin Carter, former Cal player who then went to JC . . . corners will be new, and one surprise is 5-9, 173-pound RS freshman Justin Thomas, who edged ahead of JC transfer Davion Orphey . . . OLB-DE Trevor Reilly sat out as he rehabbed surgically repaired knee . . . off-season news wasn’t always uplifting, as walk-on Afa Bradenstine was booted after a road-rage incident in which a victim was left unconscious, and D-lineman Niasa Leota was dismissed in February after charges of aggravated assault and kidnapping for allegedly beating and threatening to kill his wife.
Spring game – White beat the Red, 35-28, as 8,633 watched Wilson lead TD drives in all five of his first-half appearances.
2013 schedule – Utes’ only road trip before Oct. 19 is a 40-mile bus ride to Provo, as they have five of their first six at home. In an unusual quirk, their first three Pac-12 games are at home, all of them daunting (Oregon State, UCLA and Stanford).