ESPN takes a look at the MWC

Nothing we already don't know, but it's worth a read.

This is what they said about Utah:

Returning starters
Offense: 10, Defense: 5, Kicker/punter: 2

Top returners
QB Brian Johnson (2005 starter), WR Brent Casteel, WR Derrek Richards, RT Jason Boone, LB Joe Jiannoni, DE Martail Burnett, S Steve Tate, PK/P Louie Sakoda
Key losses
QB Brett Ratliff, LT Tavo Tupola, CB Eric Weddle, DT Kelly Talavou, DT Paul Soliai, S/LB Casey Evans
Top newcomer: QB Griffin Robles  
2006 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Darryl Poston* (553 yds)
Passing: Brett Ratliff (2,796 yds)
Receiving: Derrek Richards* (717 yds)
Tackles: Steve Tate* (102)
Sacks: Martail Burnett* (5.5)
Interceptions: Eric Weddle (7)

Spring answers: 1. Johnson reclaims the reigns: After redshirting last season while recovering from knee surgery, quarterback Brian Johnson is back to lead Utah's offense. Johnson quickly acclimated, completing 7 of 8 passes for 145 yards and a touchdown in the spring game. He spread the ball to several of his weapons, including Brent Casteel and Bradon Godfrey, who combined for 10 receptions in the game. "It took a little time to knock the rust off early in spring practice, but once we got going, things started to work really well," Johnson told The Salt Lake Tribune. "The running game started spring practice a little ahead of us, but the quarterbacks and receivers got a lot better."

  1. Smith adjusts to cornerback: Sean Smith's transition from wide receiver to cornerback accelerated this spring as Utah tried to replace superstar Eric Weddle. Smith, who has moved from running back to wide receiver and now to cornerback, impressed the coaches with his size (6-foot-2) and athleticism. "When we gave him some reps, it was clear he could be a special corner," defensive coordinator Gary Andersen told The Salt Lake Tribune. "The most encouraging thing is his ability to be consistent. He hasn't had the ups and downs that a lot of guys have in practice."
  2. Safety first: Smith showed potential to fill a gap at cornerback, and Joe Dale did the same at safety. Dale had a sack and recovered a fumble in the spring game, elevating his stock entering camp. He made six tackles in nine games last season but should be in the mix to start alongside Steve Tate at strong safety. "I think we solidified the depth chart, which was important," Andersen told the Deseret Morning News. "There's still some question marks going into fall like there always is, but we're much closer."
Fall questions: 1. Running back undecided: Utah struggled to get a good read on its running backs this spring, as Darryl Poston broke his foot and Mike Liti decided to end his career because of a knee injury. Junior college transfer Matt Asiata doesn't join the Utes until preseason camp, leaving plenty of questions in the backfield. Junior Darrell Mack will contend for playing time after rushing for 108 yards and two touchdowns on only nine carries in the spring game. "Once we get Matt Asiata in the fall, and Darryl (Poston) back, we'll know a lot more," coach Kyle Whittingham told the Salt Lake Tribune.
  1. Inside men: The interior defensive line will be examined throughout camp as Utah tries to replace starting tackles Kelly Talavou and Paul Soliai, who weighed a combined 653 pounds. Former reserves Gabe Long and Kenape Eliapo are the frontrunners to take over on the inside, but the Utes want a four-man rotation that likely will include Zeke Tuinei-Wily and Pauli Latu. "We've still got some work to do with the backups," Andersen told the Deseret Morning News. "You can't ask Kenape and Gabe to play 70 snaps in a game."
  2. Marquis Wilson's status: Wilson, who ranked fourth on the team in receptions (25) last season, remains suspended indefinitely after being charged with misdemeanor drunken driving and possession of alcohol by a minor. Though Utah still has plenty of talent at wide receiver, Wilson's deep-play potential will be missed if he does return. Wilson started six games last season. "We hope to get him back," Whittingham told the Deseret Morning News.

Not much of a surprise. I've said over the past few months that Utah's running game will be a big question heading into the fall. I'll feel this way until about the middle part of September, when it'll be more clear if Utah has a running game, or they'll struggle at that position again like last year.

With that said, I think the defense will be just as big of a question for the Utes. I'm not sure the secondary will be all that improved and I think our corner backs might struggle again this year. If that's the case, defensively Utah could be very weak.

I'd talk about the "Three things to watch for in the Mountain West", but they didn't mention Utah. Apparently, Air Force and New Mexico are bigger stories than the Utes. But does it surprise you? It isn't as if we've positioned ourselves nicely over the past two years.

Now's the time where preseason predictions and articles begin to find their way onto the net. It'll be interesting to see what people outside of Utah think of the Utes.

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