Week one is in the books, and the Utes already appear to be ahead of where they were last year at this point. One increasingly evident trend on the hill is a higher level of depth, something Utah hasn't had in the past few years.
The team's higher morale was apparent from day one, with a much better mood brought to the field in the first three practices. Players and coaches seemed to be more energetic and the team chemistry was stronger.
Last year the Utes faced a three-way quarterback duel, which served as a distraction to Utah day in and day out. This year, the Utes have a confidence in sophomore quarterback Jordan Wynn, the likely starter until his departure.
The Utes have had to deal with filling holes, but the depth at those positions has made it easier to accomplish. Utah's offense has the experience to be a bright spot, having only a few spots to replace at receiver and offensive line. Utah's defense however, is working on replacing the whole linebacker crew, the safety tandem, and defensive end Koa Misi.
A strong point on the Utes team may be the offensive line. The projected starters for the season have all started at least one game in their career.
I think this might be the strongest offensive line we've had in years," said Zane Taylor, senior center for the Utes. "Our offense is going to be good overall, but I definitely think we have strength in the O-Line."
Nai Fotu has been ruled out for season, after the second practice of the year (ACL tear). Losing Fotu certainly hurts, but isn't as devastating as it would be a few years ago - the depth is more accommodating.
Victor Spikes also found himself injured during the first week of practice. However, Spikes should be back in a couple weeks.
Here's a more in-depth look at each aspect of the Utes team this year:
Quarterback - Jordan Wynn looks better than last year, with improved footwork and knowledge of the Utah offense. Wynn aims to be 205-pounds for the season start, a 15 pound increase from his current weight. It'll be interesting to watch how Brian Johnson improves Wynn's game. Terrance Cain will serve as a reliable backup quarterback, as he continues to improve and learn the system.
Running Back - Eddie Wide enters his senior season, and has a year to improve his draft stock. Wide will be a key player on the Ute offense, taking majority of the carries for the team. Matt Asiata faces a similar situation, having a final year to make a name for himself. Asiata is expected to be drafted as a fullback for the NFL, so it wouldn't be surprising to see him serving a similar role in crimson red this year.
Wide Receiver - Jereme Brooks enters his senior season ready to take on the majority of the catches. Brooks gives Wynn a quick and reliable option, with the possibility to break free for big gains. DeVonte Christopher is developing, and has had some good practices to show for it, look for him to become a go-to choice for Wynn. Luke Matthews is another player who is turning it up for the Utes. Matthews has a chance to live up to the hype and become a key part of the Utes offense.
Center - Zane Taylor has one more year to make a name for himself, and is excited to play with a strong offensive line. Taylor will anchor the offensive line, and be a leader of one of the strongest parts of the team.
Right Guard - Walter Watts and Tevita Stevens will be pushing each other as favorites to start. Watts is in his senior season, and is out of chances after this year. Stevens and Watts have both spent some time playing the position as starters last year, and they both have plenty to offer the team.
Right Tackle - John Cullen will come in and compete to fill the shoes of Zane Beadles, and Cullen has a good chance at doing so. It will be interesting to see how Cullen makes the transfer from junior college ball.
Left Guard - Caleb Schlauderaff is in his senior season, and will be another anchor to this offensive line.
Left Tackle - Tony Bergstrom is a junior, and will be serving as Jordan Wynn's "blindside" protector. Bergstrom is a huge player, and can easily be a key contributor to the Ute offense.
Tight End - Kendrick Moeai is a second-year player looking to become a quarterback favorite. Moeai concluded last season with two touchdown catches against Cal in the Poinsettia Bowl victory. Watch for Wynn to find Moeai as a comfortable target.
Defensive End - The Utes are deep across the defensive line as a whole. Lei Talamaivao and Christian Cox have looked like the early favorites to snag the end positions. Don't be surprised to see a lot of variety on this position, as most of the defensive line can adapt to tackle and end.
Defensive Tackle - Sealver Siliga and Dave Kruger are written in as favorites to start at the interior of the D-line this year, but the position's depth will allow James Aiono and other hopefuls to get some playing time.
Linebackers - The Utes are in the midst of replacing all three linebackers from last season. Chaz Walker, JJ Williams, Matt Martinez, Chad Manis, and Jamel King all have a chance to make a push for the starting three spots. The only thing the Utes lack in this position is experience, the depth is apparent.
Cornerbacks - This is another position the Utes have depth at, but are still trying to find a groove within. Brandon Burton and Lamar Chapman have been getting the nod to run with the one's. Ryan Lacy, Conroy Black, and Kameron Yancy all have the opportunity to step up and compete for the starting job however. The Utes' secondary is an inconsistent part of the team, and expect the coaching staff to do what it takes to find that consistency.
Safety - The safety position was also depleted once last season concluded. Replacing Robert Johnson and Joe Dale won't be easy, but Utah's depth, once again, is going to allow the defense to mesh together. Look for freshman Damian Payne to make a strong case for a starter, along with Chris Washington, Victor Spikes, and Justin Taplin-Ross.
The Utes have all the key necessities to make another run this season, but it will not come without hard work. Look for players to emerge within the depth charts and make a name for themselves. The Utes have the schedule, the talent, and the fans to do something big this year. With only one week in the bags, it will be exciting to watch the potential grow.