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At 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds, Andre Lewis has the physique and tools of a talented receiver. On Thursday afternoon, he looked like one.
Although one of his toughest catches was a one-handed grab in the end zone with Reggie Porter right in his face, his favorite was a leaping reception on a post route over Mo Talley, a catch that lent itself to a huge gain after he landed.
"To make that play," he said, "it shows the coaches I'm ready to make any play down field."
Lewis is one of a handful of receivers this spring trying to establish themselves as a downfield threat. Last year, the receiving corps truly had one consistent option: Dres Anderson. The Utes staff is looking for another guy to announce his presence in the offense.
Lewis, entering his senior season, could be one of those options.
"He's had a nice camp," coach Kyle Whittingham said. "He's shown improvement since last fall. He's got one year left, and he wants to make the most of it. So hopefully he's a big contributor for us."
Lewis said he lost some confidence in the middle of the season last year after joining the Utes from Diablo Valley College. But with a new number - 49 - he's tried to make a fresh start this spring.
It has helped that Lewis joins a number of receivers after practice for reps with the jugs machine. He said putting in extra work has helped him improve his hands, which combined with his size and speed could make him a viable downfield threat.
For now it's all about proving that practice after practice.
"This offense is made for the receivers to make big plays," he said. "If the receivers don't make plays, there's not going to be a lot of chain moving, not going to be a lot of first downs."
Whittingham said he was pleased in some of the improvement on Thursday for the receivers after Tuesday's session was full of drops. Anderson had a long catch near the end zone, craning his neck 180 degrees to make a catch over his opposite shoulder after a defensive back latched onto one side. Delshawn McClellon also had a highlight, tipping up a Travis Wilson pass to himself for a diving touchdown catch.
Whittingham said like to see some consistency in spite of weather conditions.
"Now the ball was wet and stuff on Tuesday, but nobody cares: You've still got to make plays," he said. "It was good to see them come out and do it today. It'll be interesting the next time we do it in bad weather and see if we can get it down the field in that situation."
Lewis also said the receiving corps as a whole is working on getting down blocking assignments to support the run game - also key in creating offensive gains that change games.
"There's been a lot of mental errors, but not as much in the pass game as in the run game. It's just a matter of knowing what our assignment is and how to make that block so a small play can escalate to a bigger play."
OFFENSIVE HIGHLIGHT • It's hard not to give it to Delshawn McClellon on the above-mentioned play. The 5-foot-9 receiver has been turning heads for a few of his circus catches, and the touchdown on the red zone drill was one of the most emphatic moments for an offense that had another good practice.
DEFENSIVE HIGHLIGHT • The Utes aren't crazy about how they tackled this week, but they've been able to get their mitts on a few passes. A nod goes to Spanky Nawahine, who was in perfect position to make a play on an Adam Schultz throw for a pick and return it a few yards as well.
STANDOUT • Watching Andre Lewis on Thursday, it would've been impossible to pick him out as a non-factor in the receiving corps last year. His talent shined through: He made plays downfield, he made tough catches, and he's starting to really look like an end zone threat. Kenneth Scott is on his way back from injury, but if Lewis keeps up that caliber of playmaking, he'll fight for a significant role in this offense.
KEEP AN EYE ON • Scrimmage separation. Kyle Whittingham and his staff wants the men to stand out from the boys (so to speak) in Friday's scrimmage. It's the most critical time for players who want fall roles to assert themselves. Said Whittingham: "The thing that is more weighted is the live work. When you're practicing, it's 'Could he have made that tackle? Could he have broken that tackle?' There's a lot of what-ifs and unknowns. When it's live, it's a lot more defined, a lot more clear-cut who's making plays, who's not making plays."
QUOTE OF THE DAY • Whittingham doesn't seem to have fond memories of being a kicker at Provo High. "Kind of a hacker, not really a kicker. I guess I was the best we had then. I did placekick and punt in high school, but I was horrible. I was the best of the worst."
Asked his range: "About 12 yards. A lot of fakes, a lot of going for it on fourth down."
Be sure to read Matt Piper's piece on Whittingham leading special teams.
Kyle Goonkgoon@sltrib.comTwitter: @kylegoon