1. Dennis Erickson
Erickson is in. Johnson is out....sort of. Call it what you want, but Johnson goes from the offensive coordinator and play caller to co-offensive coordinator and the backup player caller. Demotion? Sounds like it to me. Still, the hiring of Erickson is a good thing for the program as it brings experience, stability, and a tremendous football mind to the offense. Erickson is going the tweak some things and trying to add some dynamism with his spread offense that will hopefully create a more uptempo pace with more big plays. Johnson will also have the chance to work alongside and learn from one of the top offensive minds in college football over the past 30 years. The offense must improve, and unlike with the hiring of Norm Chow a few years ago, I believe it will make great strides.
2. Offensive Line
The offensive line was better towards the end of the season last year. Was that a product of a softer second half schedule, or improvement? Hopefully the latter. Three starting spots appear locked up with Jeremiah Tofaeono, Vyncent Jones, and Jeremiah Poutasi, which leaves one tackle and one guard position to be competed for. Utah has the luxury of tons of young bodies on the line to choose from. With the pending adjustments coming to the offense, they'll need to find linemen that fit that system and 3 serviceable backups. If nothing else, they've got a future all american candidate in Poutasi to anchor one of the tackle spots, but finding and grooming offensive linemen has not been a strength of Utah's over the past two years.
3. Defensive Front 7
Star. Gone. Krugers. Gone. Linebackers. Terrible last season. Now what? Nate Fakahafua and Trevor Reilly are really the only known commodities in the front seven. They'll return as starters, but the other five spots are up for grabs. Tenny Palepoi and Seni Fauonuku look ready to step in and compete, but the loss of Niasi Leota due to legal problems is a big blow. There really isn't a ton of experienced depth on the line meaning guys like Hunter Dimick and Moses Foluahola will need to step up. With the linebackers, there will be increased experience, but is there enough talent? Brian Blechen is supposed to move back up and along with guys like Reshawn Hooker and L.T. Filiaga there are some solid players, but after last year's debacle, they need more consistency out of guys like V.J. Fehoko and Jacoby Hale.
4. Travis Wilson's Development
You'll hear it often; players make their biggest improvement between their first year and second year. If that holds true for Travis Wilson, Utah fans should be very excited. Wilson had a ho-hum freshman year after taking over for Jon Hays midway though the year. Part of that was being a true freshman, while part can be attributed to a lack of weapons to use. Not that the weapons have been upgraded much, but the changes in the offense and Wilson's extra time in the program will help. If he can start going through his progressions, instead of throwing to his first or second option every single time, Wilson could be poised for a breakout spring.
It's no secret that there were issues in the locker room for Utah last year. Losses breed frustration from both the players and coaches, and the lack of team unity was a contributing factor to the 5 and 7 season. Leaders? Where were they? Kyle Whittingham needs to regain this team, and get the players working together as a unit. Some of that falls on the upperclassmen to lead by example. Kenneth Scott and Jeremiah Tofaeono have been named captains and are the guys that need to step up and make sure this group is tight, and remains that way. Championships are won in the spring and fall. Setting the tone for the season and working together starts now.
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