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Utah football notes: Receivers stressing physicality, competitiveness on jump balls

August 8, 2016 GMT

On Saturday as Tyrone Smith made a leaping catch without a defender nearby, receivers coach Guy Holliday didn’t smile, but clapped his hands together.

In a week the Utes started by suspending one of their best receivers, Holliday finds himself pleased with what he’s seen so far.

“I think we are a little more physical, and a little more confident,” Holliday said. “I think we’ll have to see how we’re doing throughout camp. But thus far, we’re answering the challenge and going against some really good DBs we’ve got here.”

The receiving group has been under scrutiny since spring, returning very little production from a unit that was already considered one of the team’s weakest. But so far, there hasn’t been a day of camp without a tough catch during the media portion of practice. Tim Patrick and Jameson Field also had some catches in the final 20 minutes of Saturday’s early session.

Since coming over from BYU, Holliday has attempted to mold the receiving unit in the image of what he did with the Cougars: physical, long and tough. The receivers have talked about competing harder for jump balls, which Holliday calls “70-30 balls.”

“You have to think if it’s in the air, you own it,” he said. “There’s no such thing as a 50-50 ball. We gotta own 70 percent of those balls in the air.”

The unit definitely took a hit without the talents of Cory Butler-Byrd, who is suspended indefinitely for undisclosed reasons. The open-field menace was expected to start at slot receiver.

Holliday said he’s been pleased with the efforts of Kyle Fulks, who has assumed more reps in Butler-Byrd’s absence. There’s been no emotional letdown, he said.

“You can’t ever worry about what’s not here,” He said. “If I show any disdain or disgust for someone who’s not here, how are the rest of these guys going to feel? That they aren’t good enough? We can’t worry about that.”

Newbie standouts

Coach Kyle Whittingham had a hard time stopping himself when asked about which newcomers had made an impression in the first week of camp.

Aside from questionable conditioning, Whittingham said, linebacker Kavika Luafatasaga has been an early eye-opener. So have freshmen cornerbacks Terrell Burgess, Nygel King and Julian Blackmon. It was even before camp that he was praising his incoming defensive linemen: Leki Fotu, Maxs Tupai and Bradlee Anae.

Another area the Utes really added talent? Running back. Though senior Joe Williams looked locked in as a main ball carrier Saturday with several bruising runs in pads, Whittingham also cited Zack Moss and Devonta’e Henry-Cole as exciting players.

“Those two running backs look like they’re going to be very good football players,” he said.

Center of attention

On Saturday, the Utes again played senior J.J. Dielman at first-string center, with junior Garett Bolles and senior Sam Tevi at tackle. At the start of the media portion of practice, Dielman snapped high to quarterback Troy Williams, but otherwise seemed smooth.

Williams said he’s comfortable with that alignment, which the Utes are likely to continue to experiment with.

“[Dielman] is kinda new to the center thing, so we’re working on it,” Williams said. “That’s my dog right there. We are brothers. … We make sure we get a lot of good work with him.”

kgoon@sltrib.com