SALT LAKE CITY — So, how do the Utah Utes keep six scholarship quarterbacks eligible to play this season happy in the preseason camp?
Answer: They don’t.
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said they’re not worried about keeping people happy.
“We’re worried about them competing and hanging in there,” he said. “If they want to bow out on their own there’s nothing we can do about that.”
Whittingham explained that they have a structure and mapped out exactly how things were going to go in conversations with Travis Wilson, Kendal Thompson, Conner Manning, Adam Schulz, Brandon Cox and Donovan Isom.
“There’s no surprises, at least there shouldn’t be surprises at how things are going,” Whittingham continued. “The tough ones will hang in there and persevere and we’ll see who is standing at the very end. That’s all we can worry about. We can’t worry about who is happy, who is not happy.”
Manning, a redshirt freshman, entered fall camp at No. 3 on the depth chart with Schulz. Wilson and Thompson are currently getting most of the reps. Manning said when opportunities come, all they can do is just go out and do the best they can.
“You can’t really look at how many reps you get,” Manning said. “Really, all you can do is make your reps count.”
While the media spotlight is on the battle between Wilson and Thompson, Manning is focused on improving each day.
“Doing whatever I can to improve myself and help the teammates around me and just make the team even better,” said Manning, who acknowledged it’s a bit frustrating to be behind Wilson and Thompson in terms of getting reps.
“Nothing’s really changed since I’ve been here. I haven’t really earned a spot here yet,” Manning said. “So all I’m doing is just keep trying to do better and doing whatever I can to help the team.”
Manning vows to continue plugging along.
“I’m just going to keep working hard and do whatever I can and whatever it takes,” he said.
As for the quarterbacks in the program, Manning acknowledged that the current situation is challenging.
“It’s hard because we’re all competitors. We all want to be out on the field and play,” he said. “But you’ve just got to do whatever the coaches ask of you and when your number is called just do your best.”
“As competitors I just feel like each day we just have to get better regardless of what’s going on with your reps,” he said. “You just have to continue to get better each practice. The main thing is to learn from your mistakes on film and get better from them.”
Utah quarterbacks coach Aaron Roderick admits that it’s hard to have six eligible quarterbacks in camp.
“You can’t keep them all happy,” he said. “There’s not enough reps to go around, really.”
Roderick explained that right now they’re trying to get a good look at Thompson to see what he can do.
“Unfortunately it’s at the expense of a couple of the other guys for right now. We’ll evaluate as we go along,” Roderick said. “We’re trying to make it as fair as we can. But there’s really just not enough reps to give to six guys.”
When it comes to naming a starter, Roderick doesn’t believe you can put a firm deadline on it.
“You just have to play ball and see how it sorts itself out,” he said. “But we’re trying to be as scientific as we can about it. We look at every single rep of every drill, every day.
“Before we go out to practice there’s a precise plan in place. We already know exactly how many reps each guy is going to get — even to the point where we try to make sure certain guys are getting the right play calls against the right defenses, so we can give as fair of a look as we can to everyone,” he continued.
Despite it all, six is a tough number to handle through any process.
“It’s not easy. It’s not a perfect science, but we’re doing our best,” said Roderick, who noted that the quarterbacks have all been very professional and positive about it up this point — even though he’s sure they may be frustrated by the situation.
“I think everyone knows that around here the best guys always play and even if you’re not getting as many reps as you want, in time, the cream usually rises to the top,” Roderick said. “But it does take time.”
Such was the case for Utah building depth at the position.
“Oh my gosh, my whole career here we’ve been thin at quarterback,” said senior receiver Dres Anderson. “Now it’s fully loaded. It’s like Christmas, for real.”
Anderson predicted that whomever the coach puts in as the starter is going to benefit the team.
The risk of great depth, though, is some unhappy guys eager for opportunities that may go to others. Roderick understands that, but notes that it beats the alternative of not having enough quarterbacks to call upon.
“For the program it’s a good problem because we have guys that we have confidence in,” Roderick said. “Every guy in my room, I would trust to put in a game.”