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March 25, 2006The University of Utah unofficially opened up their 2006 football season today in a sun drenched, albeit windy, Rice Eccles Olympic Stadium.
The Utes started out with the expected first day rustiness as they participated in non-contact drills throughout the day. However, despite the rustiness, coaches demanded championship caliber crispness and several players rose to the challenge by making big first impressions.
Four Headed Monster
The quarterback battle is alive and well as Utah fans had their first look at the Utes' deep stable of quarterbacks. Brett Ratliff, Brian Johnson, Tommy Grady, and Kevin Dunn all practiced and performed well despite battling the wind. Brett Ratliff looked fairly solid, although he was intercepted twice during the two minute drill. Tommy Grady started strong, as he wowed onlookers by hitting receivers in stride with several short and intermediate bullets in drills. However, he - along with the entire 2nd team offense - looked somewhat sloppy during the two minute drill. Brian Johnson, who is currently recovering from an ACL tear, participated in throwing drills; however, he did not do any running.
Several young players made noticeable early impressions on the first day of camp. Redshirt freshman H-back/receiver Sean Smith demonstrated terrific hands and good speed as he made several tough catches over the middle. Sophomore cornerback Brice McCain had a strong first day, showing that his technique is finally starting to catch up with his athleticism. Sophomore receiver Marquis Wilson consistently beat defenders with solid routes and terrific speed in one on one drills against the cornerbacks.
The Walking Wounded
In addition to Brian Johnson, several other injured Utes participated in drills today. Receiver Brian Hernandez tested out his surgically repaired ankle in a limited number of drills. Lineman Dustin Hensel also saw action despite recovering from recent arthroscopic surgery in his right knee. The best news for Utah fans was that the pit was relatively quiet as a majority of the team is healthy and ready to perform.
Bigger, Faster, Stronger
It was readily apparent that strength and conditioning coach Doug Elasaia laid down the law during off-season conditioning. Several Utes passed the eyeball test, coming into camp noticeably bigger and stronger. The most notable change is defensive end Martail Burnett, who has bulked up to nearly 250-pounds. Cornerbacks Shaun Harper, Brice McCain, and Sean Smith also look like they have been hitting the weights hard.
Play of the Day
Senior defensive tackle Paul Soliai energized the defense and wowed onlookers with a spectacular diving interception of a Brett Ratliff pass during the two minute drill. Brice McCain assisted on the interception with a terrific pass breakup on the play.
The Utes will resume practice on Monday from 3:30- 5:30 p.m. Practices are open to the public.