April 4, 2007

Position battles heat up

Practice number six for the Utes felt more like practice number twelve, with intensity peaking on both sides of the ball, and tempers reaching a boiling point in some instances. Yep, sounds like spring football is in full force up on the hill. Tuesday's practice at the McCarthey Practice Fields saw lots of full-pad and tackle action too, which should lead to some movement on the depth chart.

Offense:

After workouts started off the day, things began to get interesting when the Utes lined up for 7-on-7 receivers vs. defensive back drills with the first team offense against the first team defense. First off, it's clearly obvious that the Utes are getting a major upgrade in the run game with the return of junior QB Brian Johnson. What Johnson brings to the table with his athleticism under center was sorely missed last year. Johnson demonstrated this running ability later on in 11-on-11 drills when he busted off a Vince Young maneuver for a 40 yard touchdown run. Tommy Grady looks about the same as he did last season with his strong, often times erratic passing and slightly improved running game. The gap between Grady and Johnson however is widening by the day and it would take a miracle for Grady to catch up. Juco transfer Chad Manis saw a very limited amount of reps with the threes but appears to be progressing as he learns the playbook.

For running backs, the depth chart could be shaken up a bit this spring if Darrell Mack has anything to say about it. Mack should get used to hearing his name this spring if he continues to play with the fire he has exhibited so far in practice. For Utes fans, the biggest complaint about Darryl Poston is his inability to explode out of the gap and run over defenders with his size. Mack has a good 20 pounds on Poston and in one rep showed that he has the size needed to go head to head with most linebackers. Beyond Poston and Mack, the depth chart at tail-back looks murky with the likes of Ray Stowers taking a limited amount of reps, and Mike Liti sidelined still trying to rehab from knee injuries and projecting to be out all of spring camp.

On the receivers front things look relatively similar to last year with the exception of a missing Marquis Wilson. With Derrek Richards, Brian Hernandez and Brent Casteel all entrenched at the starting spot, receivers that should also see time this fall are patiently waiting in line. Freddie Brown is one who will definitely see time this fall after making some nice grabs Tuesday in drills, and it was also nice to see Sean Fitzgerald make a couple of catches. Fitzgerald looks the part with his 6-foot-3 height and lanky frame, and he appears to have good hands as well. One particular aspect the Utes may be hurting at come fall is a legitimate deep threat which they had with Wilson on the team.

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