Utah coach Kyle Whittingham has an exciting challenge ahead of him this year. The first step as he prepares to lead his team into the Pav-12 will be to integrate several new coaches, a new offensive system and several new players into the program this spring. UteZone caught up with Whittingham to discuss his thoughts on the new additions and what he expects to see over the coming weeks.
UteZone: Tell me about Tim Davis
Kyle Whittingham: He has a lot of experience, a lot of knowledge in regards to offensive line play. He's an energetic, passionate coach that brings a lot of enthusiasm to the table.
UZ: What will be the biggest challenge for the players in adjusting to Davis?
KW: I think that first of all he's got to develop a rapport with his players, which I think he has done. The feedback has been positive. That's the key, that the players buy in to the philosophy and teachings.
UZ: How can Davis help develop the downhill running that you want?
KW: Just become more physical, knocking people off the line of scrimmage. The fact that we're going to get under center will help us in that regard.
UZ: Why is it tough to get that from the shotgun?
KW: It's more difficult to run the ball from the shotgun unless you have a great running quarterback. Our quarterback right now is not very good at running the football, so we've got to play to our strengths.
UZ: Why bring in a guy like Norm Chow, who runs a system so different from what Utah has been running since you became the head coach?
KW: If you term what Norm is going to bring as a 'west coast' flavor to the offense. I believe that you have to continue to evolve and stay ahead of the curve in football. Defenses catch up to things. The spread is great, and it's not the x's and o's as much as it personnel. We want to tailor our scheme to our personnel, and we think Jordan Wynn is a great fit for the west coast style of offense.
UZ: Will we see a hybrid system, maybe along the lines of what Oklahoma, or maybe the New England Patriots run?
KW: You may. We'll see how things evolve. Your starting point which is the west coast offense, then based on the players available and what we become good and proficient at, we'll naturally head in that direction.
UZ: What does Chow bring to the table?
KW: He's a wealth of knowledge. He's been many places and accomplished a great deal; he's one of the most accomplished offensive coordinators in the nation. He's a great resource for all the offensive coaches and myself in a lot of ways. What we lost with John Pease and all his experience and knowledge we hope to make up for with the hiring of Norm.
UZ: Why did the offense struggle the last half of the season?
KW: Well, the TCU game, they were the best defense in the nation hands down, no one was even close. Notre Dame, I don't think we responded very well from the TCU loss. That's my fault, that's on me to get the team to respond and I think we had a hangover from the TCU game and we were never able to get on track. We played very well against San Diego State, put up a lot of yards and a lot of points. In the rivalry game, we did not play very well. For whatever reason we were not able to get it done; we weren't able to run the ball efficiently enough, didn't throw the ball nearly well enough, it is what is was, that was the deal.
UZ: What do you want to see from the offense in the spring, especially with the new coaches and system?
KW: Consistency. Ball security. We turned the ball over far too many times. We turned the ball over more times last season than any time since I've taken over as head coach. That's at the top of the list, take care of the football. After that would be consistency; move the chains, develop a more consistent run game, a more downhill run game, and have more continuity to what we're doing.
UZ: What can you tell me about Chad Kauha'aha'a?
KW: He is a very bright, energetic young coach that has a great career ahead of him. He did an exceptional job at Utah State, and Weber State prior to that. He brings a lot of the same things Tim Davis brings to the table, a lot of passion, a lot of emotion, a lot of enthusiasm which is contagious.
UZ: What do you want out of the defensive line?
KW: We've got a good front, we expect our defensive line to control the line of scrimmage.
UZ: The defensive line only had 14 sacks last year, and just nine from the defensive ends. What needs to change up front?
KW: We have to continue to work on our pass rush technique and make it a priority. We did lead the conference in sacks so we were getting good pressure on the quarterback in general, but you're right we have to get better pressure from the with just the defensive line than we got last year.
UZ: Aaron Alford has a new role as Director of High School Relations. What is his role?
KW: His job is just that, he's in charge of making sure that our relationships with the high schools not just locally but out of state is enhanced. He'll be involved with public relations and making sure that we keep connected with the high schools.
UZ: Who will not take part in spring practices?
KW: Lei Talamaivao is doubtful. Kenneth Scott will be limited. Lucky Radley will be a little bit limited. Jordan Wynn is out. Chris Washington is most likely out. JJ Williams out. Greg Bird out. Dallin Rogers out. Those are the primary guys.
UZ: Did Tauni Vakapuna and Shawn Asiata leave the team, and will be be back in the fall?
KW: For personal reasons they've had to hang it up at least for now. There is a chance both could return in the fall.
UZ: John White, Harvey Langi, and Isaac Asiata are all on campus. Why is it important for especially those guys to be here in the spring?
KW: They're all here, working hard. We expect to add Daniel Nielsen here soon and that will finish off the early enrollees and they're definitely going to add to what we're doing. It's big for us because those are two areas that we need to add depth and establish who our guys are going to be. Running back in particular. With Harvey and John here that will be a big boost to that position.
UZ: Spring is the time for position changes. Are there any you can talk about?
KW: Not right now definitively. We're kicking around some ideas, but the only change definitively is Brian moving forward.
UZ: Is Blechen throwing the ball?
KW: We'll keep him tuned up, just in case down the road we'll use him as a wildcat quarterback. He was an exceptional quarterback in high school, but it is nothing more than keeping his arm in shape.
UZ: What about Tyler Shreve, how will he work baseball around football?
KW: He's a football player first and foremost and baseball has to work around football. He's aware of that, coach Kinneberg is aware of that. We're more than willing to let him participate in baseball because he is very good but it has to work around his football schedule.
UZ: Special Teams. You have to replace Joe Phillips, who by the end of the year was doing all you kicking and punting. Who will replace him?
KW: Nick Marsh has got to step up. He's slated to be the number one kicker. There will be competition, but right now we're depending on him to placekick and kickoff. Sean Sellwood has to rebound, he did not perform as well his sophomore year as he did his freshman year. We've got to get better at the specialty positions. The good thing is the cupboard is not bare, we've got good players in the program but we've got to get back to the high level of efficiency that we're used to.
UZ: You also lost Shaky Smithson. Who are you looking at to replace him in the return game?
KW: That's going to be an interesting deal this spring. There will be a competition there that will probably continue into the fall because a lot of the new recruits that won't get here until then will be in the mix.
UZ: Who will pair with Reggie Dunn on kick returns?
KW: We have five or six candidates. It's going to be a full-blown competition in the spring as well.
UZ: The blocking Smithson received was often under appreciated. Why was that so good this past year?
KW: I think we've got players that are committed to what we're doing. We've got good athletes on special teams. Jay Hill has done a great job with the schemes and putting guys in position to succeed. The number one reason is that our guys have bought in to what we're doing on special teams and the importance of it.
UZ: Why do these guys, especially the starters you use, buy in to the importance of special teams?
KW: Well, we make it a priority. Special teams meetings are the first thing we do every day. I'm in every special team meeting, every single one, and that is the only meeting I'm in every day, the special teams meeting. We don't pay lip service to it, but make it a priority in meetings and practice. We have a four point plan to win and t