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March 10, 2009

Utah facing big changes after unbeaten season

The only team in the nation that finished unbeaten last season? Meet the Utah Utes, who whipped Alabama in the Sugar Bowl to finish 13-0.

But spring practice will be important for the Utes, who have to rebuild their offense just three starters return and get used to new coordinators on each side of the ball.

Here's a look at the Utes as they begin spring practice.

Coach Kyle Whittingham will have to break in two new coordinators.
Coach: Kyle Whittingham
Last season: 13-0, 8-0 Mountain West. Beat Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.
Spring dates: March 10-April 18
Offense (3): T Zane Beadles, G Caleb Schlauderaff, C Zane Taylor.
Defense (7): SS Joe Dale, LB Nai Fotu, FS Robert Johnson, E Koa Misi, T/E Derrick Shelby, LB Stevenson Sylvester, LB Mike Wright.
Special teams: None.
Positions of strength

The defense has a front seven that may be the best in the Mountain West. The entire starting linebacking corps returns, led by Stevenson Sylvester and Mike Wright. The defensive line will be formidable even though end Paul Kruger turned pro after his sophomore season. The left side of the offensive line should be strong with Caleb Schlauderaff and Zane Beadles.

Help is needed

The offense has holes to fill, beginning with quarterback Brian Johnson. There also is a big leadership void to fill with seven starters departed. And the Utes also saw coordinator Andy Ludwig leave (he went to Kansas State but later accepted a job at California).

Keep an eye on

CB Lamar Chapman: He redshirted last season. This spring, he will be given a chance to win the spot vacated by Sean Smith, who left early for the NFL.

LB Kepa Gaison: He showed signs of stardom in the Sugar Bowl, when he started at strong side linebacker for Nai Fotu. Don't be shocked if Fotu sits out 2009 rehabbing a knee injury while Gaison, a senior, takes his spot.

WR Elijah Wesson: He needs to step up. Wesson, a senior, showed some signs of stardom in 2007 before fading into the woodwork last season and making no catches. The Utes lost their three leading receivers, so there is plenty of playing time available.

His time is now

Senior Ben Vroman needs to step up and be more than the kickoff guy with All-America Louie Sakoda gone. Vroman needs to boot field goals and possibly even take over the punting duties Sakoda also filled.

The buzz

A major goal this spring will be trimming the quarterback derby. The leader is junior Corbin Louks, a great athlete with a good arm. Others in the mix are DeVonte Christopher, junior college transfer Terrance Cain and Jordan Wynn. The quarterbacks will work with new coordinator Dave Schramm, who was promoted from running backs coach.

Tom Dienhart is a national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dienhart@yahoo-inc.com.

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