On the second day of camp, and the first at Rice-Eccles Stadium, the Utes settled into what will be the first of many long, grueling days that will make up fall camp. The day produced little in terms of newsworthy reports, but the session was productive despite being minus pads.
According to head coach Kyle Whittingham, the first days of camp aren't designed to produce a lot of breakthroughs in position battles, or other newsworthy events.
"[The first days are for] a lot of learning, teaching, a lot of install of schematics," Whittingham explained. "You get the plays and the schemes in. That way when you get the pads on you're ready to go. You get the pads on, you get the live reps and right now you have a lot of the offense and defense working separately, and off doing their own things."
In that regard, the real camp starts on Saturday morning's session as the Utes will put on the pads for the first time in their inaugural PAC-12 season.
"The offense is much improved from spring, you can tell they worked hard. Having Jordan [Wynn] in there is a big reason for that," said Whittingham. "Jon Hays is doing a nice job, but the proof is in the pudding. We'll line them up tomorrow and start to really see what we've got."
Friday was heavy in 11-on-11 work, where the Utes displayed a wide array of offensive plays in which veterans Devonte Christopher and Luke Matthews accounted for some offensive production. Redshirt freshman receiver Dres Anderson, if Friday's practice is any indication, will likely play a large role in the offense with his rare combination of size and speed.
Three big plays stood out for the offense; two of which came on the speed of junior wide receiver Reggie Dunn, who took two plays to the house for a total of 120 yards, most of which were yards after the catch. Fan favorite running back Lucky Radley made the most of his reps Friday as he cut through the defense before breaking away with impressive speed for another 60 yard touchdown rush.
In the battle for backup quarterback, both Tyler Shreve and Jon Hays have been solid and haven't committed any major mistakes. The battle looks to be even, despite the fact that Hays takes his snaps with the second unit and Shreve with the third.
Quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson cautions observers that it's way too early in the process to name the backup quarterback, and not to put too much stock in that sort of thing just yet.
"It's still early, it's way too early to say this guy is two and this guy is three. It'll work itself out, and the big thing is they'll both get a ton of reps. In fact all five of the guys we have here in camp will get reps," said Johnson. "We'll continue to evaluate as camp goes on and decide once it's time to play."
"Right now we're in the process of finding a number two quarterback, and Jon [Hays] is right in the thick of that. He's a very confident guy, and that's what I like about him," said Johnson. "He has a presence about him that guys respond to, and he's great in the huddle. He had a good day and took a huge step forward today, and he just has to keep that up."
A relatively unknown and un-tested commodity, Hays' emergence in such a key battle has the Utah fan base curious. Johnson expanded on Hays' strengths and assets.
"He has a good arm, obviously and he's accurate. He's a fairly good athlete for a guy his size. He's 210 pounds, so he's a little bit of a thicker guy, since he's not that tall," Johnson said. "So he's a good athlete, he's smart, and he's tough and that's what you have to start with."
In offensive/defensive line drills, the defensive line highlighted its plethora of athletes as Chad Kauha'aha'a's group displayed dazzling move after move during the drill. In one on one drills, perhaps the most impressive detail is that each defensive lineman sprints back to the defensive side of the field after completing his rep. Along with the usual suspects who perform day in and day out, Joape Pela, LT Tuipulotu and Latu Heimuli were each impressive.
Though not slated to make any sort of splash in the depth chart or push for playing time, new faces on the Ute defensive line showed flashes of the future of the line in freshman local Seni Fauonuku out of Bingham High School (Ut) showed some speed and instinct Friday.
Meanwhile, Nate Fakahafua, the high school wide receiver turned defensive end out of Highland High School, has already been singled out for impressive performance by Coach Whittingham.
The offensive line, can only benefit from the talent lined up from them day in and day out. Center Tevita Stevens was solid and consistent on the day, while his backup Vyncent Jones showed improvement from spring.
The group as a whole has taken a step forward, and offensive line coach Tim Davis likes his group's effort and attitude. Davis talked extensively about the unity of the group and amount of time spent over the summer putting in the work in the weight room.
On the other side of the ball, the defense had been stout in two days worth of work, and had not allowed any big plays until Friday's session. Undoubtedly, Ute defensive players would argue that playing without pads and having to go no contact were a major factor in the three big plays they gave up on the day.
Linebacker Brian Blechen returned from Thursday's bee sting and didn't miss a beat. The crew of linebackers, anchored by Blechen, Chaz Walker and Matt Martinez rotate themselves in and out of action. VJ Fehoko has developed a knack for being around the ball constantly and has made huge strides from spring to summer.
Former quarterback-turned-linebacker Griff Robles is getting acclimated to the new position and along with Trevor Reilly and Kaeo Alo received special time and attention from Kalani Sitake and his assistants, including time after practice.
That group wasn't the only one to get extra, concentrated time after practice as the linebackers combined with some of the less experienced safeties and corners for some extra work.
Mo Lee, who was converted to corner from receiver during spring, is showing some nice things at his new position but is in need of reps and practice. Along with Lee, another former receiver Jamal Smith also shows some promise and benefitted as well from the extra time after practice. Other familiar names Damian Payne, Joseph Smith and Terrell Reese also took part.
To date, special teams have not taken the field in any capacity, at least in front of media. In what had been a fairly prominent part of practice, no insight as to the kicking game, or kick and punt returns have been revealed.