One week after a sloppy, less then impressive first practice of the 2006 season, it looks like the Utes have buckled down and cleaned up their technique in the past week. Across the board, position drills were crisper, cleaner, and run at a higher pace. Routes were better, fewer passes were dropped, coverage tightened, blitzes were picked up and fewer assignments were missed. Even in the cold, windy, and rainy conditions, one can see the team is improving every time they step out on the field. Some observations:
One word describes the way Darryl Poston and Mike Liti are running: Decisive. They are hitting the hole quickly and with authority. Both are also doing a better job of securing the ball in traffic. Liti is the better all around back, decent in both protection and catching the ball. Poston is the better pure runner. Darrell Mack is still in the Pit, and the word to describe the way he has played this spring is hesitant. It seems he is not ready to fully trust his reconstructed knee. As for the other backs Molifua and Jarrell Woods, well, they need time and more reps before any decent evaluation can be made.
Several players have made the most out of the offseason workouts and the first week of practice. Most notable is redshirt freshman Sean Smith, the converted running back, and sophomore Brent Casteel. Smith looks like he is capable of being a star, and Casteel is playing with a chip on his shoulder. Additionally, nearly every player has made some great plays. There have been a few issues with consistency, but some of that can be attributed to receiving passes from four different quarterbacks. Marquis Wilson had an especially nice day today. The biggest question out of the group is if Thomas Huff can ever step up and play the way he should. Depth and athleticism of the group is astounding, and the position should be deep for years to come.
Overall, the group is looking better than last week. Not that it would take much, though. Jason Voss and Pate Moleni do a good job of blocking, especially Voss, the converted offensive tackle. Moleni can get out and catch the ball some, although Voss did catch a touchdown in goal line drills today. The best receivers of the group are the two redshirt freshmen Chris Joppru and Lance Bordeleau. Both are a little suspect at blocking though, and will need to improve in that area to see significant playing time once September roles around.
The line is really shaping up better then expected, especially after a rocky start. Kyle Gunther looks comfortable at the center spot, and it doesn't look like Utah will lose a whole lot with the graduation of Jesse Boone. The other four spots might actually be better then they were a year ago with returning starters Tavo Tupola, Jason Boone, Robert Conley and Eric Pettit. Depth is the biggest improvement from last year, with Zane Beadles playing well along with Jeremy Inferrera and the two JC transfers Corey Seuili and Dustin Hensel. The group still has a long way to go before they are ready, but they should come together nicely before the season starts.
The defensive tackle rotation is looking strong at the top with seniors Kelly Talavou, Paul Soliai, and Derek Beardall all playing well. The question is depth after them, with redshirt freshman Kenepe Eliapo out for probably the rest of spring camp with a hamstring problem. No one else has really stood out. As for the defensive ends go, Martail Burnett is poised for a breakout year. Adding nearly twenty pounds since last fall, he is finally able to hold his own in the running game while still providing an outside pass rush. With his newfound size to go along with his speed and athleticism, he could become a star in Utah's scheme. The other end spot is difficult to tell, with Soli Lefiti sitting out while recovering from shoulder surgery. Casey Sutera has played with the first team defense, and has done a decent job and should provide quality depth once Lefiti returns.
The only real standout has been JC transfer Chet Blasucci. Malakai Mokofisi also looks like he is trying to prove himself out on the field. Kyle Brady has the tools, but has been inconsistent. Joe Jiannoni looks a little out of position at ROVER, but he is coming along, slowly. There still could be some position changes before and during fall. Loma Olevao has done a decent job at times, and will push for playing time. At this point it looks like the best Utah will get out of the linebackers is solid but not spectacular.
Two words: solid players. The biggest surprise has been the overall speed of the secondary, along with the added size. Every DB looks to have added good amounts of muscle to their upper bodies in the offseason, and frankly, some have been almost unrecognizable. Eric Weddle does what he does, plays well wherever he lines up. Unfortunately, he came up with a hamstring problem today and might not see much more work this spring to prevent something more serious. Ryan Smith looks like he has his head where it belongs and is regaining the play that made him a Freshman All-American. Brice McCain is easily the fastest player on the field and has come a very long way from the lost 18 year old that stepped on the field last fall. He now looks like he will push for a starting spot. Mombroso Washington is playing about as well as a JC transfer corner can, he looks great in man coverage at times, lost in zone coverage at times, and overall inconsistent. It is safe to say that Utah is deep and very athletic in the secondary.
Some interesting notes in the way of schemes:
Utah will still be running the option out of the shotgun, and will be utilizing receivers as running threats as well. There are still some elements of the 2004 offense left. The OL is doing a better job of pulling and blocking in space than they did last spring, and if they continue to improve, the option game will improve. There have also been some pleasant surprises in the design of a few packages, but any reports on those should be held off until more can be seen. Also, the 3 back power I set is looking much better than it did a year ago, thanks to improved OL play and improved lead blocking. It should be a better, more consistent goal line scoring threat than it was last season. It looks like the staff has made an emphasis on red zone touchdowns this offseason, so that Utah will be in a better position to win those close games.