Tuesday's scrimmage marked the midway point of preseason football camp and University of Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham is happiest with how the younger student-athletes have stepped up their play.
"Some of the young guys are what I'm most impressed with after this morning," said Whittingham. "Our defensive end Derrick Shelby (freshman), defensive tackle Lei Talamaivao (freshman) and wide receiver Jereme Brooks (freshman) have started to figure it out and know what we're trying do out there."
However, Whittingham is quick to point out there are still spots on the team that are an open competition.
"We didn't clear anything up at running back today," Whittingham said. "We still have running backs who run the ball well, but don't do a good job at pass blocking. And, we still have some who can pass block but aren't running well with the ball. Plus, Matt Asiata is still out (sprained foot) and we'll have to get it figured out when he returns (later this week).
"Our defensive end depth chart is day-by-day. It's always changing. We have five guys that are vying for time there and then you add Shelby to the mix and there are six people competing. It's an intense competition there, and it doesn't matter if you've been here five days or five years, the best man is going to start there."
With half of the preseason practice schedule in the rearview mirror, now is the time that injuries start to take their toll. However, Whittingham is happy to point out that today's injuries were nothing major.
"We have some bumps and bruises and it's nothing more than that," Whittingham said. "We're at the point of preseason where the wear and tear starts to show. We have to get the work done and there's no substitute for live action. It's a double-edged sword. We need the live snaps but we also don't want to over-do it."
The defense shined in the scrimmage Tuesday morning, recording nine tackles for a loss, five of which were sacks. Alex Puccinelli applied the most pressure on the quarterback as he led the way with three sacks for a total loss of 24 yards. He also tallied a pass break-up when he knocked down a pass at the line of scrimmage.
It was the pass defense that got the day going. On the very first drill, linebacker Kyle Brady picked off a Tommy Grady pass and returned it 15 yards. That wasn't the sole interception of the day as the secondary arose to the occasion during the two-minute drill. Cornerback Terrell Cole thwarted Brian Johnson's touchdown bid when he picked off Johnson's pass in the end zone.
While the defense got a stop in the very first drill, the No. 1 offense drove the ball down the field to the 20-yard line. Mountain West Conference preseason special teams player of the year Louie Sakoda finished the drive off with a 34-yard field goal. Sakoda ended the day 5-for-5, all of which came from outside the 34-yard line. His long was a 46-yard connection.
The offense ended the scrimmage scoring nine times, including red zone work. The longest scoring play of the day was Grady's 15-yard pass to Brooks. Grady and Johnson finished the day with comparable numbers. Grady was 12-for-22 with 118 yards, a touchdown and one interception. Johnson completed 15-of-25 for 174 yards. He had one touchdown (a three-yard pass to Brent Casteel during the red zone drill) and an interception.
In all, 10 wide receivers caught balls Tuesday. Brooks and Brian Hernandez were the top two targets. Both of them had five grabs as Brooks gained a team-high 73 yards and Hernandez 42. Freddie Brown had three catches for 53 yards, and is credited with the longest of the day, a 29-yard snare. Brooks and Casteel were the only two to catch TD passes.
Darrell Mack led all rushers with four carries for 37 yards, including a six-yard TD scamper. Ray Stowers also continued to turn heads as he had a team-best seven totes for 27 yards.
Special teams note: sophomore Christian Cox had a blocked field goal attempt.