March 9, 2010

Day One Notes: Defense

Spring practices are underway as the Utes prepare for the 2010 season. There are many questions the Utes need to answer on the defensive side of the football as they lose eight starters from 2009.

Despite all the starters lost, there were no surprises when the first team defense took the field. With Derrick Shelby missing spring with a knee injury, Junior Tui'one gets the start at left end. Lei Talamaivao gets the nod at right end after moving from tackle. Dave Kruger and Sealver Siliga started at tackle.

At linebacker, the Utes lost all three starters but replace them with two players that have started at the position before in J.J. Williams and Nai Fotu. Former quarterback Chad Manis started at strongside linebacker.

In the secondary, Brandon Burton and Lamar Chapman started at corner while Chris Washington and Justin Taplin-Ross got the nod at safety. Greg Bird and Damian Payne also got reps with the first team at free safety.

Compared to the opening practice of years past, the 2010 opener was fairly clean, though there was plenty of sloppy play. The defense had some good moments highlighted by Bird and Conroy Black picking off passes but had moments of confusion by giving up several long completions on the day. That being said, the number of mental mistakes appeared to be low for Utah's first practice in over two months.

Other notes from the day:

  • Jamel King appeared very comfortable at linebacker and was really moving well. Though hard to tell without full pads, his speed and quickness were noticeable and he made some great breaks on the ball.

  • Though the defensive line is bigger, they appeared very quick off the ball today. Defensive lines are best judged when the pads are on, but the first impressions are that even with the bigger players the line is just as quick. Trevor Reilly showed some promise off the edge.

  • Payne had a solid first practice and is very quick to the ball. He needs technique work and needs to understand the system, but after today I think he is very much in the mix for the starting free safety job.

  • Washington also had his positive moments at safety. The battle for the starting spot next to Taplin-Ross could be the most entertaining of spring camp.

  • Manis could very well be the player that steps up and surprises. As defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake said of Manis earlier, "when he is in he just makes plays" and that showed today. Manis is faster and quicker than one would think for a former quarterback and appears to have fully embraced the defensive mentality.

  • Spring practices continue on Thursday, March 11 from 3-5 pm. Keep checking out for the latest updates.

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