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Utah notebook: Player-led practices help Utes get a jump start on chemistry, receivers are the stars of camp after 3 days

Utah Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham talks with players after practice in Salt Lake City on Aug 2, 2018.
Utah Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham talks with players after practice in Salt Lake City on Aug 2, 2018.

SALT LAKE CITY — Every offseason, Utah football players get together to practice on their own, and this year was different only in the intensity of the effort.

“It happens to one extent or another every year,” said head coach Kyle Whittingham. “Some years are better than others. This year was exceptional from what I understand.”

The player-led practices allow new players to learn from veterans, and Whittingham said it may account for some of the ‘all business’ attitude with which this year’s team is approaching fall camp.

“This team is extremely focused,” he said. “They’re dialed in. You don’t have to say much to them. They get it going on their own.”

Friday was the team’s first day in pads, and Whittingham said he was pleased with everything from effort to execution.

“There was a lot of contact, a long practice,” he said. “I saw some good things. There’s a lot of work to do. … But I like where we are as a team now.”

RECEIVERS ARE STANDOUTS

When asked which position group had impressed him most after three days of fall camp, Whittingham didn’t hesitate.

“I liked the wide receivers' work ethic and how they’re getting after it. They’re really taking care of business. … They’re doing a great job. There’s really no group that’s been disappointing, but I would say they’ve stood out.”

When asked for specific names, he rattled off a list of seven receivers who have impressed with their ability and their commitment.

OFFENSIVE LINE IMPRESSES

Jim Harding, assistant head coach and offensive line coach, said this year’s team is improving at a quicker pace than last year’s group.

“We’re light years ahead of where we were last year at this time with five or six guys who had starting experience,” Harding said. “The nice thing is we’re further ahead in our starting point. Through three practices, I think we’re pretty good.”

He said he’d like to have eight offensive linemen vying for five starting spots this season. "I do feel we’re going to have some better depth as long as we stay healthy,” he said, noting that Utah’s line play must improve if the team is going to succeed. “I thought we ran the ball significantly better (near the end of last year). We’ve got to be better at pass protection throughout the entire year. That’s something that’s been a big focal point for coach Taylor and myself.”

MISCELLANEOUS NOTES

Sophomore Ali’i Niumatalolo is moving from linebacker to a combination fullback/tight end position.