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A dozen Utes have switched positions and made a significant impact during coach Kyle Whittingham's tenure, but freshman Caleb Repp is trying to become the first to switch from a position that he never actually played.
The 6-foot-4, 202-pounder played wide receiver, safety and cornerback at Los Osos High in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. At first, Utah saw another Nate Orchard. But Repp stayed slim for track in spring (he ran the 100, 200 and 400 at Los Osos High) and is still probably 60 pounds shy of being a defensive end.
The day before fall camp started, he got a call from his new coaches: You were a defensive end. Now you're a tight end.
After his first week, he was already winning Whittingham's praise.
"It looks like he's very natural there," he said.
Initially, Repp will be more of a flex tight end, playing off the line as a pass catcher who presents a mismatch for shorter linebackers. He caught 34 passes for 498 yards and five touchdowns in just six games as a senior before breaking his hand.
"But as he gets bigger and more physical, we think he's going to develop into a fine all-around tight end," Whittingham said.
Added weight doesn't come easily for Repp, especially during the aerobic-intensive summer conditioning and fall camp.
He felt the importance during summer when he lined up in a three-point stance with his new teammates. He could beat them with speed, sometimes, but "man, as soon as they get their hands on me, they toss me."
Tight ends coach Lewis Powell said he's not sure what the long-term plan is for Repp, but he sees offense as the shorter path to the field. Then, if he excels on offense, Powell said, why switch him back?
Repp is extremely fast for his size, Powell said after practice Monday, gesturing toward the field and adding, "Everybody's done, and he's still here catching balls.
"He's a mature kid. And he's pretty physical. Having somebody who is that tall and that athletic and fast and physical, you know you can put him somewhere on a football team."
Offense seeks improvement
Say "stop" when it sounds familiar: It was another defensively dominant day in Utah fall camp. And according to Whittingham, the quarterbacks had no time to breathe.
Asked who was getting after the quarterback, Whittingham nearly rattled off the entire two-deep defensive line group.
"Pretty much all of Sack Lake City," he quipped.
The Utes feel as well-equipped as ever to continue being among the nation's leaders in sacks. Besides having Hunter Dimick and Jason Fanaika coming off the edge, Utah thinks defensive tackle Lowell Lotulelei can create pressure up the middle. Behind the starters, Kylie Fitts, Seni Fauonuku, Pita Taumoepenu, Stevie Tu'ikolovatu and Pasoni Tasini have performed well and been chasing down passers.
But even as Utah's hard-nose defense appears at the ready, the offensive malaise is starting to get concerning. The defensive line's skill is chiefly responsible for keeping quarterbacks Travis Wilson and Kendall Thompson scrambling, Whittingham said, but there's definitely some issues with blocking and getting rid of the football as well.
There are some rhythm issues: Devontae Booker is being held out of live work, and receivers Kenneth Scott, Tim Patrick and Raelon Singleton have been out during the week. Whittingham said he hopes that some of the missing first-string guys will be available in the next few days before he starts worrying about them not being ready for Michigan on Sept. 3.
It will be a focus in Utah's first fall scrimmage, which is scheduled for Thursday morning at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Though none of the quarterbacks will be live and Booker won't participate, the offense isn't lowering the bar.
"That's something that's challenging for our offense," he said. "But they have to rise to the occasion."
Safety Williams packs on the pounds
He heard the teasing from his coaches, opposing wide receivers, even his own position group: Marcus Williams was as skinny as a beanpole.
These days, the sophomore safety has his weight up above 190. If would-be bullies still want to taunt him about his lean frame, he can usually silence them with a stiff tackle.
"I feel like I'm at a weight where I can do what I need to do: make good tackles and still have the speed to go get the ball," he said. "I'm more confident in my game and my ability to play."
So are the Utes, who slid him up to a starting job over the weekend.
While Jason Thompson still could win the job by the Michigan game, the Utes are high on Williams' potential for the next few years. After starting a few games as a freshman with decidedly mixed results including against, ahem, Washington State Williams has come a long way.
"The things we asked is to gain weight, improve his physique so he can take on the tight ends, running backs and bigger guys," safeties coach Morgan Scalley said. "For the most part, he's done that. Very athletic, very gifted, tests off the charts. Smart, accountable, everything you want."
Twitter: @matthew_piper and @kylegoon