The long wait is finally over. The Utes started their quest for another Mountain West Conference football title as they opened up fall camp for the 2006 season. Monday's initial practice was split into two sessions, with the newcomers meeting in the morning and the veterans practicing in the afternoon.
Welcome to Camp, Rookie
The Utes started off Monday morning with a practice session featuring only the newcomers to the program. This session allowed the freshman to get acclimated to Utah's practice schedule while showing their stuff. The most impressive aspect of the session was the size and conditioning of the incoming linemen. During the morning session, Zeke Wiley stole the show, having his way with touted offensive lineman Walter Watts. Watts, however, bounced back and showed that he belonged. Another impact newcomer appeared to be linebacker Stevenson Sylvester. Sylvester carried the momentum of an impressive summer conditioning program by demonstrating his excellent athleticism in his first official practice as a Ute.
The quarterback derby has officially begun. Now that Brian Johnson has had the summer to rehabilitate his knee and has been fully cleared to play, he is expected to battle Brett Ratliff for the starting job. As expected, Ratliff and Johnson both split reps today with the first team offense. Johnson, sporting a large brace on his left knee, looked a little shaky in his first real practice since last season, with several errant balls. Ratliff, however, didn't look much better. Both Ratliff and Johnson's performances suffered because of several drops by the receiving corps.
The first fireworks of the season came early in practice, as the receivers battled the defensive backs passing drills. The defensive backs won early, as Brice McCain and Eric Shyne both had solid days, showing off attitude and physicality to go along with their athleticism.
On the receiver side, Brian Hernandez made his first full appearance since having off-season ankle surgery. Despite his injury, Hernandez showed that he had put the work in during the off-season with solid conditioning and added muscle. Hernandez was the decided vocal leader of the receiving corps, heaping praise on a teammate's success while barking out orders whenever a teammate made a mistake. Brent Casteel and Sean Smith had the most spectacular plays of the day, both beating Utah corners for long gains on multiple occasions.
In addition to Johnson and Hernandez, several other players that missed spring football with injuries were back practicing with the team on Monday. These players included base end Soli Lefiti, tight end Ameen Shaheen and running back Ray Stowers. Shaheen was the biggest surprise return, as some had speculated that his career was over after a devastating off-season ankle injury.
Practice went off without a hitch until reserve defensive end Greg Newman went down with an apparent ankle injury on the last play of practice. His status will be known tomorrow.