Utah football notes: Utes happy the talk is over and the work has begun
Utah notes • First practice is different as part of the Pac-12.
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No one was more excited for Utah's football team to get on the practice field than the coach himself.

After several weeks of media interviews and trips to the West and East coasts, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham was ecstatic to get down to the business of coaching.

Whittingham isn't one for the limelight, and while he said he enjoyed the Pac-12's recent media tour with other Pac-12 coaches, he is most comfortable on the field.

"It's good to get out here and just get back to playing football," he said. "I don't want to call it hype, but all the conversations, it's just good to get back to the field and get down to business. It was all positive, but we needed to get back on the field."

Aside from some good exposure for the program and a few frequent-flyer miles, Whittingham earned a bout of bronchitis during his travels. He was still feeling the effects of the lingering illness Thursday.

While unhappy about being sick, Whittingham was pleased with his team's performance on opening day.

"It was a very good day," he said.

While saying their focus is the same as always, Utah's players admitted the opening day session felt a little different than those in the past, knowing they are a part of the Pac-12 now.

"The coaches always do a good job of making sure we stay in the present," center Tevita Stevens said. "But it does feel different. We know it's a different task and challenge ahead of us, and it gives us motivation."

Injury report

The two most notable injuries were to linebacker Brian Blechen and receiver Anthony Denham.

Blechen had to leave practice early and receive medical treatment after a bee flew into his mouth and stung his throat, causing it to swell.

Whittingham said he'd never heard of such an odd injury.

"Every year is an adventure," he said.

Coaches are hopeful that Blechen, who switched from safety to linebacker after a breakout freshman season, returns to practice Friday.

A potentially more serious injury was to Denham, who pulled a hamstring and was sidelined for the second half of practice. The 6-foot-4, 231-pound junior is expected to contend for a starting role.

"It was the major downer of the day," Whittingham said. "He'll be re-evaluated, and we'll see how long the down time will be."

Roster rotation

The Utes are allowed 105 players on the roster during the current practice sessions. That means, for now, sophomore safety Chris Washington, who is recovering from shoulder surgery, is not on the roster to make room for others. He is expected to join the team closer to the season.

Added to Utah's roster are fullbacks Shawn Asiata and Tauni Vakapuna. The two didn't participate in spring ball but decided to return to the Utes.

Ranking notes

The Utes are unranked in the first USA Today Coaches Poll, checking in behind Arizona State and West Virginia in the "Others receiving votes" with 50 points.

ASU pays the Utes a visit on Oct. 8.

Pac-12 schools in the rankings are Oregon at No. 3 and Stanford at No. 6.

USC isn't eligible to be ranked due to its NCAA sanctions.

Oklahoma is ranked No. 1, and Alabama is No. 2.

BYU was unranked and received five votes and Pitt, which hosts Utah on Oct. 15, received three votes.

The state of Utah is well represented among the 59 voters with Utah's Whittingham, Utah State's Gary Andersen and BYU's Bronco Mendenhall all voting.

Pac-12 coaches among the voters are Colorado's Jon Embree, Oregon State's Mike Riley, Stanford's David Shaw, Cal's Jeff Tedford and Washington State's Paul Wulff.

lwodraska@sltrib.com

Twitter: @lyawodraska