Family atmosphere makes fall camp a breeze for Utah
SALT LAKE CITY -- You noticed when you first walked in and on your way out the door. It may have been a sultry Wednesday morning practice under the shadows of the Wasatch Mountains, but from the stretch lines to the relay races there was a family atmosphere at Utah's practice that made things just fine regardless of the actual weather.
There are a lot of programs that talk about being a family. You'll often hear how a recruit picked a school, "Because I loved the family atmosphere." Coaches talk ad nauseam about installing such a feeling into the culture of their program.
For the Utes, however, there's no getting around it that the program is, from top to bottom, a close-knit and easy-going group. The coaching staff was serious on the field on Wednesday, but its bite was aimed at making the players better. Players picked each other up when things really started to swelter. Staff members were gracious with their time while allowing cameras into a full practice for the first time. Though he didn't instruct, Pac-12 Networks analyst Rick Neuheisel certainly looked like a 10th coach with full access to every part of the field.
Even veteran coach Dennis Erickson, who's been there and done that on the football field for decades, seemed to have a bounce in his step.
As part of the Football Training Camp series of season preview shows, Pac-12 Networks will be making its way around the league all month. But the second tour stop will be tough to top in terms of smiles and politeness. Maybe the team will have a different tune once the rigors of camp start to wear them down, but with spacious new digs dedicated to football, that seems unlikely. Why is that important? When things get tough during the season -- and they likely will for these Utes -- it seems far-fetched to see this year's group fracture. Offensive and defensive linemen may be slugging it out in the trenches at practice, but they're awfully chummy at lunch (naturally). That bodes well for 2013.
It's still too early to see how talented this team will be going forward, but they certainly have the right culture to build upon.
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1. The football facility is first class.
Although it's not 100 percent done, the team has moved into its new facility and it is a dandy. It's hard to think of a Pac-12 school that's taken such a giant leap forward as a program on the facilities level as the Utes have, and this will position themselves very well in the coming years. Every amenity that the team needs is in place, and it's big enough for everybody and then some (and there are a lot of large-bodied Utes).
2. Dennis Erickson is reinvigorated.
When the offense got into team situations on Wednesday, it was noticable how smoothly they operated for the most part. There were a few wrong moves or dropped balls but it seemed like there was a flow to the group that they didn't have last season. Part of that is because Travis Wilson looks like he's progressing nicely at quarterback. The other part of that is the steadying hand of the white-haired Erickson. With a set of spring practices already under everybody's belts, it seems like guys are very comfortable with what's being called and how to execute things.
That's not to say there won't be adjustments. Erickson said he'll be in the press box for games instead of the sidelines for the first time since 1981. He wisely picked up the Utes' terminology so players didn't have to learn a new system and seems very much on the same page as co-coordinator Brian Johnson. When Erickson was hired, it left a lot of people scratching their heads. But this appears to be a move that will pay off for Kyle Whittingham.
3. Jeremiah Poutasi is a stud.
The Utes' new left tackle is as advertised in person and somebody Erickson said could be among the best he's been around along the line. And to think he celebrated his 19th (!) birthday on Wednesday.
Possible fall surprise
Wide receiver Dres Anderson.
Don't be surprised if Utah can get back to a bowl game and even surprise people a little bit, according to Rick Neuheisel. It's clear to the coach that the team is really adding a lot of high-quality, Pac-12-caliber guys to the roster and that will pay dividends as the team continues to head to new places around the conference.
1,268 miles through the air, 83 miles on the ground.
Friday, Aug. 9 at 7 p.m. PT / 8 p.m. MT across all seven Pac-12 Networks.