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Monson: Utah spring football brings hope for a better tomorrow

Published March 11, 2017 4:14 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Spring is good for a lot of profound things — renewal, hope, optimism, the turn of a page, the warmth of a new season.

Spring football at Utah, which started Thursday, is good for all of that and more — a chance to forget the missed opportunity of last season, messing up a great start by bumping and skidding over a November stretch that saw the team lose three of four games, costing it a shot at the Rose Bowl.

It's all in the rearview.

"We shut the door on that," quarterback Tyler Huntley said. Sort of.

A few months after a nine-win season which could have been much more, bits of that failure still resonate.

Under the shine of the cool March sun, though, the Utes reassembled themselves, ready to rinse, ready to work, eager for a fresh run at whatever the new year will bring them, with questions at significant positions.

Longtime Jazz coach Jerry Sloan made famous the phrase, "You can't play backward."

And so, the Utes won't, because they can't. They can only learn from the past — last season's starting quarterback Troy Williams said he has done exactly that — and shake it off, looking forward, moving forward, in preparation for another crack at a Pac-12 South title, submitting themselves to all the work required to do that. Some smart guy once said: "It is only the farmer who faithfully plants seeds in the spring who reaps a harvest in the autumn."

The Utes know that, too.

"I really like the personality of this team," Kyle Whittingham said. "They're a hard-working group. They busted their rear-ends through winter conditioning. And there were a lot of reps out here today and I think they handled it well."

Whittingham noted the obstacles to overcome — an offensive line that's sending four of its five starters to the NFL, the back end of the defense, again four out of five starters gone, so critical in stopping Pac-12 offenses, and the same familiar cast of opponents who have stood in the way before … teams from the North and the South, as well as a date in Provo.

For the time being, all the Utes can do is dial in on themselves by 1) drawing confidence from recognizing that their program now is bringing in a high level of talent — eight players invited to the NFL Combine this year, tied with USC for the highest number of all Pac-12 schools, and that number didn't even include Hunter Dimick, who likely will enjoy a successful NFL career, and 2) working and sweating for and focusing on making the most of what they've got, faithfully planting those seeds for the fall's harvest.

"We did lose a lot of great players," Whittingham said. "But we've recruited well. It's time for those guys to step up and show what they can do."

There's the natural optimism — or, after annual changes, is it skepticism? — that comes with a new offensive coordinator, a new offense, new reinforcements for the other side of the ball to partner with the traditionally powerful defense. Williams is a believer. He said the new offense is good for him, good for the O-line, good for the receivers: "Our whole offensive group has bought into the system. We're ready to go."

New OC Troy Taylor said he was pleased after the first practice: "I feel good about the energy level and, for a new system, coming in the first day, there was a little bit of anxiety. I think they handled it pretty well and made some good plays. Obviously, it's just a start. … We'll execute better each day."

The defense will be what it always is, even with that new secondary, waiting, same as it ever was, for the offense to join in and win the fight.

During the spring and beyond, players on all sides must go throttle up to better themselves, to finally find the wherewithal to finish what, over the past couple of seasons, they started so positively through the fall's first two months before collapsing in November. Some players will jump all the way in, although some, off the record, have said they don't think all that much of spring ball.

A lasting memory of the late LaVell Edwards was his love of spring practices. He said he knew some players weren't particularly fond of them, spearheaded by those who had already established themselves as top contributors. But he enjoyed the spring, because, he said, "That's when I could start to see how we were going to come together as a team, how good we were going to be. It usually left me hopeful."

Good enough for the legend. Good enough for Whittingham and his Utes.

"You get a good idea of what you've got," Whittingham said. "You know what the mentality of the team is, kind of who they are."

And who will the Utes be?

"We're going to be a great team," said Huntley, "for what the defense is going to bring to the table and what we as an offense are going to bring, too. I'm confident of that."

GORDON MONSON hosts "The Big Show" with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM. Twitter: @GordonMonson.






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