SALT LAKE CITY — Preseason camp wasn’t the only thing the Utah Utes started on Monday. They also opened a quarterback evaluation as Oklahoma transfer Kendal Thompson and returning starter Travis Wilson took a majority of reps with the first and second units.
Both players drew positive reviews — as did the offense as a whole — on the opening day of practice.
“They looked real good. They’re both making the right reads, doing a good job,” said senior wide receiver Dres Anderson. “They both know the offense pretty well and it’s going to be a fight.”
Even so, Anderson considers Wilson the front-runner. The junior is back in action after missing the final three games of 2013 following the discovery of an intracranial artery injury.
“You can tell Travis is still in the lead. He’s still running things,” Anderson said. “He’s still No. 1. But Kendal, he’s right there. He’s a solid No. 2.”
Wilson and Thompson entered camp as the top two quarterbacks on the initial depth chart. The coaching staff plans to give Thompson, a graduate student with two years of eligibility, a close look to see what he can do.
“Once we find out what his capabilities are and where we feel he fits and what his readiness is then we’ll make a decision based on that how to set the depth chart (in the future),” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham, who noted that the plan going in was to find out more about Thompson.
While acknowledging that the decision on a starting quarterback should be made at least a week before the Aug. 28 season opener against Idaho State, Whittingham said there is really no timeline to do so before then — essentially giving the staff three full weeks to try and get it sorted out.
“It’s an important decision obviously and we’ve got to make the right one and we’ve got to have enough of a body of work to evaluate to make that right decision,” he said.
Whittingham noted that Thompson’s strength is making something happen when everything is broken down — turning imminent disaster into a positive.
Wilson, meanwhile, drew praise from the coach for being in the best shape he’s ever been in — weighing in at 235 pounds with very little body fat. Whittingham added that Wilson has accepted the challenge.
Ultimately, though, a decision will have to be made. Whittingham said offensive coordinator Dave Christensen and quarterbacks coach Aaron Roderick will do so.
For now, Whittingham continued, all of the quarterbacks are just going to compete and show what they’ve got.
Problem is, with six scholarship quarterbacks in camp, the Utes have a lot — and others performed well Monday.
“Connor Manning did some good things. Brandon Cox threw some really nice balls in the second part of practice,” said Whittingham, who admits the Utes are in a good situation at quarterback. “We’ve just got to continue to sort it out. You can’t do it in one day. You can’t do it in one week, most likely. But we’ve got to get it done eventually.”
As they walked off the turf at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Christensen mentioned to Whittingham that they’ve got a lot of quarterbacks here.
”It’s a good problem to have. You don’t ever want to go into a situation where you don’t have a quarterback or a backup and so I was real pleased today,” Christensen said. “We’ve got a lot of guys competing.”
The neat thing, he explained, is that they all do some things differently and there’s a lot of ability at the position.
As for the guys getting the most reps early on, Christensen said it was good. He mentioned that the coaches planned to spend about three hours reviewing the practice film to get a feel for how Wilson and Thompson handled things.
Utah’s new offensive coordinator, who is introducing a more up-tempo scheme, had good things to say about both quarterbacks.
Christensen said that Thompson showed some ability to get out of the pocket and extend plays, adding praise for his nice throws and good decisions on the zone read. Wilson’s active leadership and vocal approach in operating the offense and tempo were among the reasons Christensen cited in saying that he was “really pleased with Travis.”
As for splitting for the top reps early in camp, Christensen explained that Thompson came to Utah for a reason. In the recruiting process Thompson was told that he would be given an opportunity because the coaches felt he could make an impact.
“Now it doesn’t mean that he’s guaranteed anything,” Christensen said. “But we had to put him there to get an early evaluation.”
And, thus far, all is well.
“It’s definitely a friendly battle,” Wilson said. “We’re both just here to push each other and get each other better.”
Wilson added that he understands that’s how Christensen had laid out all the reps at the beginning of camp.
“I’ve just got to take it how it is and if that’s me earning back more reps then that’s something I’ve got to do,” said Wilson, who vows to make the most of every snap he gets. “I definitely feel like it’s my job to lose. But I also need to get better for myself as well. I’ve got to make sure I progress better than the last fall camp and just make sure everyone knows that I will be the starter.”
Wilson is determined to continue being a student of the game. He also wants to be more accurate with the football, as well as work on other things on and off the field.
Thompson’s focus is on what he calls the “little intricacies in the offense,” such as his check-downs, knowing where to go in certain situations.
“I feel pretty comfortable right now,” he said. “(It’s) just day one. I feel like you can always get better as the days go on.”
Thompson, who joined the Utes in June, thought things went well in his first practice.
“It felt pretty good just to get out there with the guys,” he said before addressing the quarterback situation. “Nobody’s been promised anything. As a group we’re going in to compete. Obviously me and Travis got a lot of the reps today, but we’re just going head to head and battling it out.”