Football Notebook: Team works fundamentals

Defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake coaching the Utah linebackers during practice. The defense has suffered multiple injuries so far this spring. Chad Zavala / The Daily Utah Chronicle
Defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake coaching the Utah linebackers during practice. The defense has suffered multiple injuries so far this spring.
Chad Zavala / The Daily Utah Chronicle

Defense still unsatisfied

Injuries are never a good thing, but with the amount of injuries on the defensive side of the ball, defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake has been able to play many of his reserves. While the backups have played well thus far, Sitake still feels there could be improvement.
“There still is a lot of work,” Sitake said. “There are some guys that don’t have a lot of experience, and so I am seeing a lot of improvement from them. For the most part, there are still some things we’ve got to get ironed out in the next little bit.”
Sitake’s players also understand work needs to be done before the spring game on April 20.
“I think practice went well,” said junior linebacker V.J. Fehoko. “Not where we should be at, but that’s an every day kind of thing. But as far as our guys coming along and defense executing new game plans, I like it so far.”
Even with plenty of starters on the sidelines, the defense outperformed the offense in the first scrimmage. The result has been some added fire between the two squads.
“I noticed that our offense has the attitude now,” Fehoko said. “That’s pretty dangerous in this conference when you have an offense that has the mindset of trying to get after you.”

Tight ends show leadership

While Utah’s offense is struggling to hit a groove, the tight ends have been strong. Offenses in Utah’s past used tight ends primarily as blockers, but Westlee Tonga, Jake Murphy and others will have a more active role in the new up-tempo offense.
“We’ve been getting a lot of balls, a lot of reps and spreading it around,” Tonga said.
Murphy and Tonga emerged as legitimate threats last season and have been quarterback Travis Wilson’s favorite targets in spring ball.
“We always try to push each other,” Tonga said. “It’s a competitive situation every time you get on the football field, but we are best of friends, and there is no rivalry.”
As a senior, Tonga recognizes his opportunity to help teach the younger tight ends and to help the defense get better at recognizing the hidden tight end on passing plays.
“That’s a team thing,” Tonga said. “We try to get everybody better.”

Focusing on the fundamentals

Thursday’s practice didn’t begin with its normal regimen of one-on-one, full contact drills. Instead, players were broken up into their position groups to work on the fundamentals
“We did some live work,” said head football coach Kyle Whittingham. “Not a lot, we maybe did 25 snaps.”
The offense has seen improvement — particularly the running game.
“It’s twofold,” Whittingham said. “The offensive line is doing a much better job blocking up the run game. [I am] very pleased with running backs and what they can do with the ball in their hands.”