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August 20, 2006

Right on track

Things are starting to wind down for the Utes as far as fall camp is concerned. There is only one more two-a-day practice, as UCLA looms only two weeks in the distance. So are the Utes where they want to be heading into specific season opener preparations?
"I think so," said Kyle Whittingham. "We've had an excellent camp to this point. I think we are right on track."

Saturday morning was pretty similar to recent practices. All the receivers continue to make every onlooker believe this will be the deepest unit in the conference, and the defensive backs continue to hold their own, even when wideouts continually make the impossible look routine.

Whittingham gave no indication as to the staff's leanings at quarterback, which probably means they will reserve judgment until both Ratliff and Grady can prove their worth one more time at Tuesday's scrimmage. Both had equal snaps on Saturday. Grady's decision-making continues to improve, although he still overthrew some open targets.

Safety valves

The safety position is a bit of an enigma this year, thanks to other units poaching talent for certain formations. Casey Evans will split time between safety and linebacker, while Eric Weddle will split time between safety and everything.

"The depth at safety is not real deep," Whittingham said. "Our ones and twos we feel good about. We got Casey, Steve Tate, Eric Weddle and [John] Peel if we can get him healthy. But that's about it. There's not much behind that."

For what they lack in depth, the Utes certainly make up for it in talent. Evans was a big-play machine last season, coming up with interceptions and big tackles in key parts of seemingly every win. Steve Tate's emergence as the season went on allowed Weddle to shift over to cornerback when the Utes started playing teams with standout receivers late in the season. John Peel is the x-factor. The former wide receiver has garnered rave reviews after he switched to defense, and his 6-foot-2, 195-pound body is the perfect vessel for success at the position. But right now Peel is still on the sidelines, having suffered a back/neck injury last week. He figures to be back by UCLA, but the coaches are taking no chances with that kind of anatomy region.

The other safeties vying for time are of a very young variety. Sophomore RJ Rice has impressed coaches with his tenacity, although his diminutive size (5-foot-8) is obvious when he goes up against the Sean Smiths' of the team. Also in the mix is true freshman Joe Dale, who has had his fair share of both highlights and growing pains during August. But even with a small corral of safety candidates, Whittingham has seen the position in worse shape before.

"As a coordinator I had many years where I only had three that really could get on the field," he said. "We have four and a fifth one developing. I'd say it's better than most years, we just don't have enough bodies."
Which raises the question, since depth is a concern at the position, will the coaches be gun shy about moving Weddle to cornerback when the opportunity presents itself?

"As long as we have a couple of healthy ones that we can count on, it still gives us that luxury," he said. "If we lose a guy or two then we have to rethink that, but where we are right now today, we'd be ok doing that.


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