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Utah football: Utes using tennis balls to assist in their preparation

Britain Covey works on catching drills as the Utes open fall camp in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2018.
Britain Covey (18) works on catching drills as the University of Utah opens fall camp in Salt Lake city on Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2018.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah football is using another sport to assist in its preparation. The Utes have players catching tennis balls, launched from machines at 50-60 miles per hour, at the end of practices.

“It’s a hand-eye coordination thing, training your eye to track the ball,” said tight ends coach Freddie Whittingham. “It’s hard to quantify what the help has been but I’m a big believer in it.”

Whittingham noted it was something he saw during a mini-camp with the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs.

“Andy Reid is a pretty darn good offensive guy and he had all the skill players do it after every practice,” he said. “So we incorporated it here, starting with training camp.”

Sophomore receiver Britain Covey likes it.

“I think anything that helps you just keep your eye on the ball — because you’re not going to catch a tennis ball without looking at it — I think it definitely helps,” he said.

The Utes continue to work with footballs as well, making catches off JUGS machines.

HANGING TOUGH: Covey had taken some tough hits this season, including a shot from Washington State safety Skyler Thomas that was ruled targeting and led to an ejection.

Washington State defensive back Hunter Dale (26) tackles Utah wide receiver Britain Covey during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Pullman, Wash., Saturday, Sept. 29, 2018. (AP Photo/Young Kwak)
Washington State defensive back Hunter Dale (26) tackles Utah wide receiver Britain Covey during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Pullman, Wash., Saturday, Sept. 29, 2018. (AP Photo/Young Kwak)
AP

“Luckily I didn’t feel anything in my head. I’m very blessed to not feel anything in my head. I‘ve got a great helmet,” said Covey, who added that his neck tweaked pretty bad on the play. “I was lucky that it wasn’t my head and so I look at it in a positive light.”

NORTHERN EXPOSURE: The Utes open Pac-12 play with three games against teams from the North Division — Washington, Washington State and Stanford. It’s a group that Utah associate head coach Gary Andersen is familiar with from his days as head coach at Oregon State.

Utah football assistant coach Gary Andersen in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, June 19, 2018.
Utah football assistant coach Gary Andersen in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, June 19, 2018.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

“It’s good to know the kids a little bit. The kids you are competing against,” Andersen said. “But other than that, it hasn’t really crossed my mind.”