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Utah Utes football: New Ute assistants feeling right at home in Utah

Of all his duties as head coach, Kyle Whittingham says his least favorite thing is having to replace coaches.

Remarkably, in his five years at the Ute helm, he's only had to do it a handful of times. But this year, he had his biggest turnover with three coaches to replace.

Of course, defensive coordinator Gary Andersen left to take over the head coaching job at Utah State, while offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig ended up at Cal and offensive line coach Charlie Dickey went to Kansas State.

Replacing those three this year are veteran NFL coach John Pease on the defensive line; Blake Miller, who has taken over offensive line duties; and J.D. Williams, who is the cornerbacks coach.

All three are working out well, and Whittingham is pleased so far with how each has settled into his position and the progress their players are making.

Whittingham says he takes several factors into consideration, including experience, position coaching and recruiting ability. But there is a trio of things that are most important.

"It comes down to three basic things we look for — intelligence, character and energy," Whittingham said. "Those are the three qualities we're looking for in every coach on the staff."

He feels Pease, Miller and Williams all fit the bill.

The 65-year-old Pease, who was featured in a Deseret News article earlier this month, has brought two decades of NFL experience to the U., in addition to his background as a former player and assistant at Utah.

Miller, 41, had no background with Utah whatsoever, having coached only in Texas and Louisiana after playing for LSU. His only connection to Utah was coaching a year with offensive coordinator Dave Schramm at Texas State in 2002.

He's been impressed with the Utes' program since arriving earlier in the year with his wife and two children.

"I've loved it," he said. "We've got a hard-working staff and a bunch of hard-working football players."

After living in the South for most of his life, Miller's favorite thing about Utah so far is the dry weather.

"The weather is awesome, unbelievable," he says. "You could fry an egg on the field this time of day in Houston. I've never seen mountains, never had a white Christmas."

When he's not coaching football, Miller loves to cook, of all things.

"I love to barbecue, love to grill, to cook inside — it's kind of my hobby," he says. "The Food Channel is all that I watch — Food Channel and SportsCenter."

The 42-year-old Williams is a father of three daughters. He calls Utah "a beautiful place" and says he is enjoying his job.

At Fresno State, he was an All-American defensive back and a No. 1 draft choice of the Buffalo Bills, for which he played on four Super Bowl teams.

He got into coaching in 1997 when his NFL career ended and has since coached at Fresno State, San Jose State, Cal and Washington.

Having coached at California and Washington the past seven years, Williams knows all about Pac-10 talent and says Utah compares favorably.

"I look at this team and it's as talented as any Pac-10 team out there," he says. "We have great team speed and the kids love to compete. We have some good depth and good competition."

While he doesn't have much background with Utah, he has one special memory involving the Utes.

It came in September of 1989 when Fresno State beat the Utes 52-22.

"Scott Mitchell was the quarterback and I intercepted him for a touchdown," Williams says with a smile.

Whittingham mentioned recruiting as a factor in choosing a coach.

In Miller, he has a coach with close ties to Texas and Louisiana, while Williams has a strong background recruiting in central and northern California.

"We feel the staff is very cohesive and very together, and that's important," Whittingham says. "I've been in situations where they haven't worked so well together and that's not a healthy situation."

EXTRA POINTS: Defensive end Koa Misi, who has been sidelined with a back injury for more than a week, returned to practice Friday. He jogged and participated in agility drills.

Whittingham told reporters that Misi is questionable for Thursday's season-opener.

"Questionable means there's a shot," said Whittingham. ...

Right guard Walter Watts also did some running around and will be re-evaluated Saturday morning. ...

Left guard Caleb Schlauderaff, however, is still "shut down" after injuring his knee earlier in the week. ...

Friday's practice at Rice-Eccles Stadium featured a lot of situational and special teams work. ...

The Utes also worked on pregame routines and logistics such as warming up and going in and out of the locker room. ...

Whittingham said the starting quarterback competition between Terrance Cain and Jordan Wynn was shaping up and progressing well.

Contributing: Dirk Facer