The practices are over. The position battles have been fought. And the Utes learned several key lessons during spring football. With spring ball officially in the books, let's take a look back at what was learned this spring, and which questions still hang over the Utes as they head into the summer.
Four Lessons Learned
This spring, the biggest indicator for a successful 2007 came in the form of a healthy Brian Johnson. The year off rehabbing his knee has seems to have done a lot of good for Johnson. He demonstrated a command of the offense, and an ability to effectively and efficiently spread the ball amongst his talented receiving corps. Based on his performance this spring, there will be large expectations for the junior quarterback. Senior Tommy Grady also showed significant improvement this spring and will look to contribute to Utah's offensive success this fall as well.
One of the larger revelations of the spring is the fact that the spread option looks to be back. The Utes opened up the playbook over the spring and ran a steady dose of reverses, receiver sweeps and option-read plays. The combination of Brian Johnson's running ability and a speedy and talented receiving corps should prove to be a dangerous combination in the fall and should mitigate some of the running back questions that the Utes have heading into the season.
With the departure of Eric Weddle, Shaun Harper and Eric Shyne, cornerback was a huge question mark heading into the spring. The only certainty was that Brice McCain, who had come on strong at the end of last season, had a lock on one starting spot. However, Sean Smith]/db] has turned a lot of heads with a strong spring, and will have the inside track on the starting job when JUCO transfers [db]Damilyn Tanner and Josh Broughton arrive on campus this fall. Elijah Wesson has also had a strong spring, and is the current leader to start at the nickel back position.
Entering the spring, the defensive line, especially at the tackle positions, was another large question mark. However, Gabe Long and Kenape Eliapo both had strong showings during spring camp, and solidified their holds on the starting spots. Zeke Tuinei-Wily and Pauli Latu have also shown significant improvement and will be relied upon heavily in the tackle rotation this fall. Defensive end Paul Kruger came on strong at the end of camp, after platooning at tight end for a majority of the spring. Kruger looks to have a slight edge over Koa Misi and Greg Newman for the starting job opposite Martail Burnett heading into fall.
Three Questions for Fall
Running back is still the largest question mark for the Utes heading into the summer. Returning starter Daryl Poston ended the spring with a broken foot. Ray Stowers made the most headway this spring, with a solid showing. His performance was consistent over the spring, and if he stays healthy, he may be the favorite among the returning players to see the most playing time. Darrell Mack also returns, but although he had a strong spring game, Mack still has yet to prove that he can be the consistent go-to player. Matt Asiata's ability to pick up the offense this fall will be a major factor in the success of the Utah running backs this fall.
Inexperience and lack of depth are the two primary concerns at the safety spot heading out of spring. Steve Tate returns as one starter. Sophomore Joe Dale improved significantly over the course of the spring, and currently holds the other starting spot. JUCO transfer Deshawn Richard is the primary backup and will be joined by fellow transfer Robert Johnson in a fierce competition for playing time this fall.
Although Utah has a considerable amount of talent on both sides of the ball, at this point the team doesn't look like it could absorb a significant number of injuries, especially at defensive back or offensive line. The Utes' health this season may be the ultimate factor that decides the amount of success the team sees this year.