Swinney: Much improved, and that starts with the offensive line, which will surprise a lot of people, and could be one of the best. Left tackle Jeremiah Poutasi is a future All American, while right tackle Siaosi Aiono and right guard Junior Salt have blossomed into a future all Pac 12 players. If all three of those guys get close to their potential this season, Utah's line could be special.
The turtle pace of last season is gone, as the Utes have increased the temp significantly. Travis Wilson though, still remains a bit of a question mark. He has to perform this year, or Utah is screwed, as there isn't any playable depth behind him for 2013. Want a guy to watch for this year? Tight end Jake Murphy is one of the top ten tight ends in the country. Good luck covering him on a seam route.
Coming out of fall camp how would you assess the team's defense?
Swinney: A work in progress. The defensive line has been rebuilt, but may actually be better than it was last season with Star Lotulelei. There's definitely more depth, especially at defensive tackle, and the pass rush should be improved out of the ends. Should is a big word though as we've been saying that for years now. The linebackers are still the Achilles' heel. Not enough size, speed, or depth yet, and they still couldn't cover an old lady in a wheel chair.
Unless some of the younger guys emerge, could be another year of missed tackles, blow assignments, and scrambling QBs lighting them up. The corners, while brand new, will be fine. Justin Thomas is a future star and there's plenty of talent with Keith McGill, and Davion Orphey. Strong safety might be a concern.
With the 2013 season about to begin, what do you think is the team's biggest strength and what is its biggest concern?
Swinney: Biggest strength is going to on the offensive line. I can't believe I'm actually writing this, but outside of Stanford, they could end up being the best offensive line in the Pac 12 by the end of the season. That's a testament to both the depth they have, and the high quality of players. It's a far cry from the debacle of the last two seasons on the line.
The biggest concern/weakness is still at linebacker. As noted above, they just aren't very good right now.
Which players were some of the bigger surprises on both sides of the ball?
Swinney: I know I've bashed the linebackers a bit, but Jared Norris is a real athlete. He could surprise a lot of people if he avoids mental mistakes. Offensively, wide receiver Dres Anderson is poised for a big year. He's been a starter before, but has had issues hanging on to the ball. All of the tools are there for him to breakout in 2013.
With the current status of the team what in your opinion is a realistic prediction in terms of W-L record?
Swinney: 6-6 seems about right. If I had to lean one way or the other, I'd say closer to 5-7 than 7-5. This team and program are still growing. I counted 63 Pac 12 level players on the roster (in my opinion) a far cry from the 30 something they had when entering the league in 2011. The coaches are top notch and the new facilities are unreal.
Everything is in place for Utah to consistently be a Pac 12 South contender. Now it's just a matter of the players doing their jobs and constantly getting better. While the final record this year may not show improvement, this team is definitely better than they were last year.