College football never ends, and during the next few weeks teams will be getting ready for the 2013 season in their spring practice sessions. Here's a look at the Utah Utes and what they'll be working on this spring.
Spring practice begins: March 19
Spring game: April 20
2012 record: 5-7
Returning starters: 13 (six offense, seven defense)
The Utes took a step backward in their second go-around in the Pac-12, falling to a 5-7 record. The usually stout defense was inconsistent, and the offense failed to ignite, although that was mostly due to instability at quarterback. Coach Kyle Whittingham returns a promising squad that could surprise in the Pac-12 south, provided it stays healthy.
The Least You Should Know About Utah This Spring
-- Dennis Erickson is now the co-offensive coordinator. The 65-year-old Erickson was brought out of retirement to help Brian Johnson run the offense, which is now officially termed a "spread" offense as opposed to the "multiple" denomination of years past. Erickson wants to speed up the tempo, with the goal being to run as many as 80 plays per game. (The Utes averaged just 66.4 last season.) Having a veteran football mind like Erickson's around to mold the offense should pay dividends.
-- Quarterback Travis Wilson is an emerging star. Wilson got his feet wet as a true freshman, leading the team with 1,311 passing yards and seven touchdowns. At 6-foot-6, 230-pounds, he has the athleticism and arm to be a difference-maker in the Pac-12. With the starting job secure, he must use this spring to acclimate to Erickson while continuing to adjust to the speed of the college game. Look for him to make a big jump in improvement as a sophomore.
-- Both cornerback spots are up for grabs. Utah's pass defense was solid in 2012 thanks in part to the play of senior corners Reggie Topps, Ryan Lacy and Moe Lee. They're gone now, and the competition to replace them will be fierce. Senior Keith McGill, junior college transfer Davion Orphey and freshmen Reginald Porter and Justin Thomas will battle it out, while junor Wykie Freeman sits out the spring due to injury.
-- The interior defensive line needs rebuilding. Star Lotulelei is off to the NFL, and that means Utah has a huge hole to fill up front in its 4-3 defensive alignment. There will be no shortage of heft available, as 300-plus-pounders Tenny Palepoi, LT Tuipulotu and Stevie Tu'ikolovatu will all compete for playing time. If any of these three can approach what Lotulelei did at Utah, the line will be in good shape. Luckily, ends Nate Orchard and Trevor Reilly both return, though Reilly will sit out spring with an injury.