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The collision of shoulder pads is music to Dennis Erickson's ears.

What he sees is even better: star running back Devontae Booker, who may be a Heisman contender, digging into the defense, absorbing hits and keeping his feet moving.

"Not in the underwear, baby, we've got the pads on today," Erickson said. "I don't think I need to talk about Booker, do I? I mean, he's special."

After a practice where Booker had some of the highlights for the offense — something Utah fans got used to last year during a 1,512-yard, 10-touchdown junior campaign — Kyle Whittingham had his own form of praise.

"Booker," he said with a grin, "is, uh, Booker."

There's not much to be learned about Utah's top returning rusher, but coaches observed more about the running game in the first day of pads. Newcomers Joseph Williams and Marcel Brooks-Brown made some plays, though coaches think Brooks-Brown must work on his conditioning.

Williams, in particular, is slated as Booker's backup at the moment.

"He's tough, physical, really can run, so I'm really impressed with him," Erickson said. "To me, right now, you practice your rear end off, you're gonna get some carries in the game."

Returners Dre'Vian Young and Monte Seabrook, too, are expected to be in the mix at backup and third running backs.

The offensive line is also an area that gets more attention during padded practice. While four returning starters have taken out some of the drama, there is a position battle at left tackle. For the time being, offensive coordinator Jim Harding has switched J.J. Dielman back to right tackle, where he played last year, leaving Sam Tevi and Jackson Barton to battle for the position.

Ideally, Harding said, he'd like to have a starting five shored up by the Sept. 3 opener at Michigan.

"If we can get a solid No. 2 tackle and just play five guys, I would like to get to that point," Harding said. "But if we can't, I think Sam and Jackson, if we were to play today, they'd both play in the game in some sort of rotation."

Dielman, whom Harding described as "head and shoulders above the other two," is still working at left tackle in positional and one-on-one work in case he switches back.

Hatfield eligible to attend U. • An attorney for cornerback Dominique Hatfield said the U. recently concluded an investigation into Dominique Hatfield's actions and decided not to dismiss or suspend him from school.

Armed robbery and theft charges against Hatfield were dropped last month, but Salt Lake City last week filed a misdemeanor assault charge stemming from a separate incident while Hatfield was out on bail.

A probable cause statement says Hatfield was attending a party with numerous Utah athletes when a man asked him to stop rolling a marijuana cigarette. At that time, according to the statement, Hatfield and four to five other unknown individuals jumped the victim and left him with minor injuries.

Hatfield attorney Greg Phillips — the father of junior Utah kicker Andy — said Saturday that the incident was provoked by a racial slur and taunts about Hatfield's robbery charge, "by persons who may have been under the influence." He does not believe Hatfield himself punched anybody.

Hatfield tweeted late Friday night, "Guess who's back," and "Sorry for the wait!"

Hatfield's status with the team hasn't changed. Said Whittingham of the "guess who's back" tweet: "Well, not right now."

Hatfield has a pretrail conference scheduled for Sept. 21.

Briefly • In depth chart adjustments, Kyle Whittingham said Britain Covey has emerged as the starting punt returner. Covey didn't return punts during the 20-minute media observation period, but did have a slippery move in a catch when he juked corner Jordan Fogal for a substantial gain. … Safety Marcus Williams is also taking the top spot at free safety, Whittingham said. He's in a position battle with Wyoming transfer Jason Thompson. … Kyle Fulks caught a long touchdown pass from Chase Hansen during morning practice, approximately a 50-yard strike. Fulks, a one-time track star, is trying to carve a role as a deep threat for the Utes. and

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