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Utah opens Spring Football today

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NCAA Football: Foster Farms Bowl-Indiana vs Utah Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

The long itch for football gets a bit of a scratch, starting Thursday, as the Utes kick off Spring Football for a couple of days, before heading to Spring Break. Utah lost quite a bit from last year’s 9-4 team, but they return players at some key positions, namely QB and at some skill positions. The defense will be reloading, but Lowell Lotulelei and Kylie Fitts are some nice anchors toe build around, but neither will see the field this spring.

Of course, the Utes are changing offensive coordinator, so they will be installing a new offense, which is likely why the practices will be mostly closed, with the exception of a handful, and of course the Red-White Game. Troy Taylor is expected to bring a much more pass friendly offense, and that’s what Coach Whittingham has been wanting address the last couple of seasons. Obviously, the coaching staff wants to keep as much close to the vest as possible, and that’s why open practices are going to be limited.

I have two thoughts on this. First, I get it, you want to get any advantage you can get, and when you’re retooling the offense, you want to keep it as much of a surprise as possible. It makes total sense, especially in a league like the Pac-12.

However, spring has, at least in my view, been largely about the fans. I feel like spring is a good time to give back to the fans, and let them reconnect with the program. Letting them see “how the sausage is made” I think is good and healthy. When you start to close down too much access, I think you start to hurt the fan engagement and excitement around the program. I’m hoping this isn’t something that continues, and is just for the new offensive staff to install their schemes.

Here is some more info about upcoming spring practices and more from the Athletic Department.

Spring Camp Starts Thursday

The Ute football team opens its 2017 spring camp on Thursday, Mar. 9 with the first of 15 total practices. The camp will run two days (Mar. 9-10) before shutting down for the University’s spring break. Camp will resume on Tuesday, Mar. 21. The 14th-annual Red-White spring game is scheduled for Saturday, Apr. 15.

Open and Shut

Five practices have been designated as open to the public: Mar. 9, Mar. 25, Mar. 31 (scrimmage), Apr. 8 (scrimmage) and Apr. 15 (Red-White game). Visit www.UtahUtes.com and follow @utahathletics for open practice locations and times.

Week 1 Public Schedule

TH, Mar. 9 3:00-4:45 p.m. (Eccles Practice Fields)

Camp Notes

Utah returns 13 starters (6 offense, 6 defense, 1 punter) counting players who split starts … The opening day roster of 103 players includes 50 lettermen … The pre-spring depth chart on page 3 will be the only depth chart released during spring camp. Some notable returning starters are missing from the spring depth chart due to injuries that will prevent or greatly limit their participation. They include defensive tackle Lowell Lotulelei, defensive end Kylie Fitts, tight ends Siale Fakailoatonga and Harrison Handley and running back Armand Shyne.

In the Huddle

New starters will man four of the five positions on the offensive line, where only starting right guard Salesi Uhatafe returns. Included in the offensive line losses were 2016 first-team All-Pac-12 left tackle Garett Bolles (who declared early for the NFL Draft) and 2016 Morris Award winner and second-team all-conference left guard Isaac Asiata … Utah returns the best punter in the country in junior Mitch Wishnowsky, a unanimous consensus All-American and the Ray Guy Award winner in his first NCAA season last year … For the first time since 2011, a new place kicker will take the field for the Utes. First in line to replace four-year starter, school record-holder and all-conference field goal/PAT kicker Andy Phillips is sophomore Hayes Hicken. Hicken handled most of the kickoffs last season … Offseason position changes had an impact on the receiver corps. Senior Troy McCormick has moved from running back to receiver and is in the spring two deep at slot back. Sophomore Caleb Repp switched sides of the ball—moving from receiver to defensive end. Repp opens spring camp as the backup right end … Several players will be wearing new numbers on their jerseys this spring. Among them are starting rover linebacker Kavika Luafatasaga (now No. 5) and starting middle linebacker Sunia Tauteoli (now No. 10).

New to U

Three members of the 2016 recruiting class are enrolled in classes and participating in camp: defensive back Corrion Ballard, wide receiver Tyquez Hampton and offensive lineman Orlando Umana. Ballard is a junior college transfer while both Hampton and Umana are incoming freshmen … Utah gained two walk-on transfers from Power Five conferences in the offseason: Alabama quarterbackCooper Bateman and Arizona linebacker Cody Ippolito. Both will be seniors (assuming the waiver submitted for a five-year clock extension for Ippolito is approved by the NCAA) and are eligible to play immediately since they completed undergraduate degrees at their respective schools. Ippolito is on the injured list.

Staff Moves

The Utes turned to FCS offensive juggernaut Eastern Washington for two new assistants in the offseason. Troy Taylor is Utah’s new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, while Kiel McDonald begins his first season as Utah’s running backs coach. Eastern Washington averaged an NCAA FCS-best 401.0 passing yards per game in 2016, while ranking No. 2 in total offense (529.6 ypg) and No. 3 in scoring offense (42.4 ppg). In other moves, Jim Harding was promoted to assistant head coach. Harding, who was Utah’s co-offensive coordinator in 2015 and 2016, will also coach the offensive line for the fourth season.

Reviewing Last Season

Utah went 9-4 overall in 2016 (5-4 Pac-12) and beat Indiana in the Foster Farms Bowl. The Utes finished No. 19 in the College Football Playoff rankings. They finished No. 21 in the Coaches and No. 23 in the Associated Press polls. Sophomore Mitch Wishnowsky won the Ray Guy Award as the nation’s best punter and was a unanimous consensus All-American. Senior defensive end Hunter Dimick made several All-America teams, including Walter Camp (second team), Football Writers Association of America (second team) and Associated Press (third team). First-team All-Pac-12 players included Wishnowsky, Dimick and offensive tackle Garett Bolles.