Utah will practice as a Pac-12 team for the first time Tuesday when spring drills begin, but that doesn't mean coach Kyle Whittingham is already eyeballing his new conference foes.
"It's all about us," he said.
The Utes have plenty on their plate. The secondary needs to be rebuilt, the two leading rushers from 2010 are gone and there are voids on the offensive and defensive line. Not only that, they will be breaking in a new offense under coordinator Norm Chow, which will have a more "West Coast" look and less of the spread that arrived with Urban Meyer in 2003.
"We brought Norm in with the intention of incorporating a lot of the West Coast principles into our offense," Whittingham said. "That's the direction we are headed. We have not completely scrapped the spread, but you'll see a lot more under-center stuff, more downhill run game, good play-action pass package off of that run game. We have some definitive ideas of the direction we are headed."
With starting quarterback Jordan Wynn sitting out after shoulder surgery, a lot of the focus will be on that downhill running game after the loss of Matt Asiata, Eddie Wide and Sausan Shakerin. Harvey Langi and John White IV are early-enrollees who will have the inside track at tailback, while Boo Anderson has moved from linebacker to fullback.
Here are some notes from Whittingham. (Note: If your favorite backup from last fall is not listed, it doesn't mean he's not in the mix.)
Position changes: Besides Anderson to fullback, Tevita Stevens moves from starting right guard to No. 1 center; Luke Matthews switches from receiver to running back; David Kruger moves from DT to DE opposite Derrick Shelby; and Brian Blechen moves from strong safety to strongside linebacker (stud).
Quarterback: With Wynn out, the Utes have only two scholarship quarterbacks. Sophomore Griff Robles will take snaps with the first team, while incoming freshman Tyler Shreve, who grayshirted in 2010, will be No. 2.
Offensive line: Both tackles are back but, with Stevens moving to center, there are openings at both guard spots. Jeremiah Tofaeono and Sam Brenner will get the first look.
Receiver: While leading receiver Jereme Brooks and Shaky Smithson are gone, and Matthews switched positions, Whittingham didn't seem concerned: "That's one of our deepest positions," he said. No. 2 receiver DeVonte Christopher is back, and Whittingham listed Reggie Dunn, Mo Lee and Sean Fitzgerald as players -- along with the redshirt freshmen, Anderson, Scott and Reese -- that he feels will be in the mix. The 2011 recruiting class also was strong at receiver.
Defensive line: Kruger's move outside means there are two open spots at tackle. One spot will be filled by Star Lotulelei. Said Whittingham, "We really are high on Star Lotulelei, who played a lot of football for us last year." Former JC super-recruit James Aiono, Tavita Finau and L.T. Tuipulotu also are in the mix. Kruger's younger brother, Joe, a redshirt freshman, will get a look at end, too.
Linebacker: Matt Martinez and Chaz Walker are back, and Blechen wasn't moved to be a backup. Fehoko and Hale are promising prospects, and Whittingham said Victor Spikes, who moved to LB from safety last year, is getting more comfortable with the position. When healthy, J.J. Williams will be in the picture. Nai Fotu, a starter heading into last spring who missed 2010 with a knee injury, is suspended indefinitely but could return to the team.
Cornerback: Both corners must be replaced, and Conroy Black figures to win one spot. Ryan Lacy and Reggie Topps are next in the pecking order, with Jamal Smith, Wykie Freeman, Mike Honeycutt, Joe Smith also possibilities.
Safety: Whittingham said safety is "a wide-open competition" that he expects to last into the fall when the incoming freshman arrive; they will have an opportunity to earn immediate playing time. He mentioned Payne and Michael Walker as youngsters who could raise some eyebrows. Senior Greg Bird and sophomore Quade Chappuis were the backups in 2010.
Kicker: Nick Marsh, who handled kickoffs last fall, is likely to handle all kicking duties.