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Utes ring in spring drills with formal fingerware

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Picture-perfect weather and a little "bling-bling" accompanied Utah's first spring football practice.

Prior to taking the field on an unseasonably warm day, the Utes received their championship rings. The sterling silver mementos, which feature a "U" filled with diamonds on a red field, are inscribed with Utah's accomplishments in 2003 — its 10-2 record, the 17-0 victory over Southern Mississippi in the Liberty Bowl, a sketch of Rice-Eccles Stadium to symbolize the attendance record and, of course, the Mountain West Conference championship.

"I don't think there's a more appropriate time to receive the ring than now because it reminds us of what we're working for and what we're working towards," said senior-to-be Morgan Scalley. "So to receive it when we're starting spring ball kind of gets us going a little bit."

Though the Utes wore shorts and had limited contact, head coach Urban Meyer liked the attitude his team displayed in the workout.

It was a lot different, he said, than last spring.

"There's no comparison. That's not a knock on last year because last year, obviously, we had great success," Meyer explained. "Last year everybody was kind of on their tippy-toes — not sure what was going to happen and how it was going to happen, including myself.

"So this year it's just boom! We went and they knew what the red line means," he added. "It's all business when you cross the red line."

The two-hour practice included some 7-on-7 situations and plenty of drills. The players, however, weren't complaining.

Wide receiver Paris Warren said the team is just excited to get back on the field.

"It's just time to get back at it, getting running around and knock off a little bit of rust," he noted. "I'm waiting for the pads to get on. That's when everybody gets tested for real."

That'll come Saturday after another practice in shorts Thursday and a no-tackle session on Friday. Scrimmages are set for April 3 and 10 with the Red & White Game at Rice-Eccles Stadium on April 17.

"The expectation level is high here," Warren said. "All we can do is keep going."

Quarterback Alex Smith said continued success is what is motivating the Utes.

"I think we have more of an opportunity to work harder than we did last year," Smith said. "Everybody's excited because I think we all realize our potential."

The rings, which were given to players as they arrived at the Smith Center, provide additional inspiration in that regard. Defensive lineman Sione Pouha said they represent a lot of sweat and a lot of effort. He credits last year's senior class for leading the way and is eager to do the same this time around.

"I don't think anybody will know how important this is to us right now," Pouha said. "Maybe 10 years down the line we'll figure out how much this really means to us as more teams come through the school and we can say we were 10-2 and outright champs of the Mountain West. That's what it's all about."

Utah's quest for an encore won't be easy. Meyer is "alarmed" about the status of several positions. Topping his list of concerns is finding a back-up quarterback, the emergence of a starting tailback, and improving the offensive line.

Answers will come, Meyer acknowledged while praising the work ethic of his team and staff. Great weather, championship rings and high expectations only add to the optimism.

"It was a great day," Meyer said.

EXTRA POINTS: There are 97 players on Utah's spring roster, including senior tailback Marty Johnson, who is attempting a comeback after off-the-field troubles . . . Departing seniors Josh Savage, Thomas Herrion and Lewis Powell worked out on the far end of one of the practice fields while preparing for the upcoming NFL Draft . . . All practices are open to the public. Thursday's session is set for 3-5 p.m. at the McCarthey Practice Fields.

E-mail: dirk@desnews.com