In a fast, paced 30 minutes of practice Tuesday at the McCarthey Practice Fields, the Utes looked sharp on both sides of the ball. As was the case through fall camp, the team improved from Saturday's scrimmage. Running a faster pace than what was seen in scrimmages, the Utes are amping up for game-time.
The team was divided by the usual white jerseys for offense, black for defense, and a new look, red jerseys for the scout team. Freshman running back Lucky Radley stood out on the day, playing the role of highly vaunted Pitt running back Dion Lewis, complete with a bright yellow jersey with the number 28, Lewis' jersey number. Other Ute players donned the same numbers as their Pittsburgh counterparts, aiding the scout team in running Pitt schemes for the defensive starters.
As has been the case recently, Las Vegas sophomore Devonte Christopher made another high-speed, highlight-reel kind of catch as he snatched a Terrance Cain-thrown zinger out of the air with one hand, palming it basketball style even as he turned for YAC (yards after the catch) through the defense for about another 5 yards.
Defensively, cornerback Conroy Black intercepted a Jordan Wynn pass with what would have been plenty of room to run if played out. Black made a great jump on the route almost as Wynn was letting go of the pass.
On the day, the defense looked strong against the run game, leaving the offense to put the ball in the air to some degree of success, courtesy of another strong blocking effort by receivers and improving Tauni Vakapuna. Vakapuna has had success throughout camp rushing, but has had to work doggedly to improve in the blocking arena, and in making notable progress as was showcased on two particular plays Tuesday afternoon.
Special Teams Seeks Continuity
There was much focus through camp on kick and punt returns, thanks in part to strong efforts by Shaky Smithson, new co-starter (at kick return)Reggie Dunn, Griff McNabb, Devonte Christopher, among others. With so much anticipation about the return game, little has been said about the kick and punt coverage aspect of special teams.
When asked about their play, special teams Coach Jay Hill described their performance as "inconsistent." Hill continued, "We've had a bunch of injuries this camp, so we've been shuffling guys in and out, so compared to what we usually are, we're a little inconsistent." Hill however, remains confident in his unit, assuring that "when we get all our guys back, we'll be an extremely talented special teams unit."
After practice, Kyle Whittingham commented on some units who came in to camp with question marks, especially the linebackers, as it was confirmed that starter J.J. Williams will miss the Pittsburgh game, and up to another 1-2 weeks beyond that.
Whittingham expressed optimism about that unit, particularly because all four have the ability to play the stud, rover, and middle positions interchangeably, allowing for greater flexibility and different looks for opposing offenses.
The offensive line was glad to welcome back the once-surging redshirt freshman Kapua Sai, out of St. Louis High School in Kahalu'u, HI. Prior to injuring his knee approximately three weeks ago, Sai had been in serious contention for the backup role at right tackle and will look to do push there again as the season rolls on.
The team announced changes to the 2/3-deep Tuesday, noting that Christian Cox and Junior Tui'one have switched sides, making Cox the starting right end, and Tui'one the starter on the left side, with Derrick Shelby as his backup. Freshman Joe Kruger is now the backup to Cox on the right side.
Versatile defensive lineman James Aiono, previously listed as backup at defensive end, is now a co-backup at defensive tackle. Latu Heimuli, a redshirt freshman is Aiono's fellow-backup at tackle, behind starterDave Kruger.
Thanks to a strong end to fall camp, Conroy Black has moved into a co-starter role at corner, sharing the title with Lamar Chapman.
Reggie Dunn, also cemented a starting role thanks to a standout camp performance and is now listed as a co-starter on the kickoff return team, along with Shaky Smithson.
Dallin Rogers, newly-returned missionary was rewarded for his fall camp effort, moving up a spot in the depth chart. Rogers is now number three, behind Kendrick Moeai and Brad Clifford. In other news, it was confirmed that all four tight ends on the roster will see playing time, meaning true freshman Westlee Tonga will see the field, and not take a redshirt year this season.
Important newcomers to the wide receiving corps Dexter Ransom and Mo Lee were sure to have roles in the upcoming season, which was confirmed by their emergence on the two deep this week. Both have been actively practicing for just over a week, due to NCAA clearinghouse issues for Ransom, and injury for Lee, but have progressed and impressed enough to earn consideration on the two deep.
The Utes reported no new injuries, but indicated Tuesday that running backSausan Shakerin, safety Victor Spikes, and linebacker Jamel King, all out with concussions are now classified as being "out until further notice", according to the University of Utah Sports Information Department press release.