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Monday, Oct. 20, 2014

Utes football fall practice position preview: the offensive backs

By Carter Williams, Deseret News

Published: Sun, July 27 10:10 a.m. MDT

 University of Utah running back Troy McCormick runs with the ball during the Red vs White game at Rice-Eccles Stadium Saturday, April 19, 2014 in Salt Lake City.

University of Utah running back Troy McCormick runs with the ball during the Red vs White game at Rice-Eccles Stadium Saturday, April 19, 2014 in Salt Lake City.

(Hugh Carey, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — All eyes will be on the backfield when the Utes open fall camp on Aug. 4.

Returning quarterback Travis Wilson (6-7, 240 pounds) has been cleared to play as he heads into his junior season and is expected to be the starter to start the season, but Oklahoma transfer Kendal Thompson (6-1, 199) should give Wilson a run for his money.

Meanwhile, running back Bubba Poole (6-1, 197), who averaged 4.1 yards per carry last season, returns, and the Utes will add depth to the position this year with incoming junior college transfer Devontae Booker (5-11, 209).

Returning experience

Wilson’s return should be a huge boost for the Utes’ offense. The junior has been given a clean bill of health following a scary intracranial artery injury that could have threatened his career. He’s already been given a few votes of confidence by being named the starter on the 2014 Utah football media guide and once against by head coach Kyle Whittingham at the Pac-12 media conference.

With that clean bill of health, Wilson will now look to improve on his 2013 season, where he finished with 1,827 yards passing and 16 touchdowns — but 16 interceptions, too. More importantly, Wilson has knowledge of the offense and his receivers, which is key for any offense.

Junior Adam Schulz (6-1, 210) threw for 1,008 yards and six touchdowns in replace of Wilson last season. Freshmen quarterbacks Conner Manning (6-1, 190) and Brandon Cox (6-2, 200) each redshirted last season, but are eligible this year.

At running back, Poole returns as the team’s leading rusher last season. The speedy Troy McCormick (5-9, 172) redshirted last season, but is expected to see a few handoffs too this year.

Another speedster, Dre’Vian Young (5-9, 174), also redshirted last season and will look to make an impact. Andrew Fletcher (5-10, 199) did not play last year either. He is a transfer from Valparaiso.

Key additions

Thompson comes over from Oklahoma, where he played sparingly, but has two years of eligibility with the Utes. He was a three-star recruit prior to enrolling at Oklahoma.

Incoming freshman Donovan Isom (6-5, 235), a three-star recruit by Rivals.com, also joins the quarterback corps this year.

Booker sparkled in spring, rushing for 103 yards on 19 carries and scoring two touchdowns in the red/white scrimmage. He showed the ability to break out big carries too. The junior college transfer figures to split time with Poole this season.

Freshman Tavaris Williams (5-10, 180), a two-star recruit from Fort White, Florida, will also join the running back group.

Dark horse

With all of the eyes on Poole and probably Booker too, McCormick and his 4.38 40-yard dash speed could be a lethal threat in certain situations. He had a solid spring game and has the ability to break out the big play on opposing defenses.

General outlook

The quarterback position is looking much better than it did by the end of last season. Wilson is healthy, while Thompson adds more depth behind the projected starter.

Poole and Booker should be able to combine to form a solid running back combo behind the quarterback as the Utes will look to improve running the ball again this season. The running backs behind the top two on the roster provide game-changing speed and could play a factor in games.

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1. East Coast Ute
Storrs, CT,
July 27, 2014

I'd like to see what Young can do this year. His older brother was a stud at Texas, and he's got fantastic speed, one of the fastest 400m runners in the country in high school. He had one really big play during fall camp last year, albeit against the 3rd defensive unit, but didn't hear much from him this spring.

2. Utah rules
Salt Lake City, UT,
July 27, 2014

I am concerned with the lack of bulk at running back. Our guys are fast but undersized. Could be a huge problem on short yardage situations. I don't see Wilson bolding up this year with a weak offensive line. Could be a very long season.

3. positivethinker
Magna, UT,
July 28, 2014

@Utah Rules:
I am guessing you didn't watch the spring game this year when DeVonte Booker was smash Mouth Running through defenders and was especially good in short yardage situations. With a new o-Line coach and quality depth on the o-Line, I don't believe weak is the correct assumption for the o-Line.

4. East Coast Ute
Storrs, CT,
July 28, 2014

positivethinker, you took the bait. It's an anti-Utah poster who frequents the articles under half a dozen other aliases. Giving response only fuels the motivation.

5. UU
Provo, UT,
July 28, 2014

No mention of Dacorius Law the 4-star recruit out of Florida?