SALT LAKE CITY — Utah may not have a one-two punch at running back this season. It could be a one-two-three kind of thing for the Utes.
Bubba Poole, Devontae Booker and Troy McCormick are all well on their way to earning playing time. Each is making an impact, thus far, in camp.
“It’s a three-way competition that may go all the way up to game week to determine who is going to be the guy,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. “It may end up being a rotation where they can play equally and let them sort themselves out during the course of the season. We’ll see how that unfolds. There is really no need to get that sorted out right away.”
Besides, it won’t be easy.
“They all three bring a lot to the table,” said Utah running backs coach Dennis Erickson. “We’re very fortunate to have them, all three of them.”
Erickson added that there’s no question they’ll all play this season.
“We’ve got to get them on the field because they’re real good players for our team,” he said.
Poole, a 6-foot-1, 197-pound junior, is the incumbent. He led the Utes with 607 yards rushing in 2013. Erickson describes Poole as a back with good movement who catches the ball really well (29 receptions last season) and has shiftiness.
McCormick, a 5-foot-9, 172-pound redshirt freshman, has what Erickson considers blazing speed.
“Once he hits it, he could go all the way,” Erickson said.
Booker, a 5-foot-11, 203-pound junior college transfer, is a much more physical runner than the others, according to Erickson. He also considers Booker to be kind of a combination of the others.
“They’re all three going to play,” Erickson said. “We’re going to use them in different situations and kind of see where they fit in the best.”
Although there’s been no clear separation in camp, thus far, Poole would be the starter if the season started tomorrow. Erickson said he’s got experience and doesn’t make many mistakes.
However, like Whittingham, Erickson said there’s no hurry to make a decision. Right now, Poole and Booker are the front-runners to be the starter. Even so, Erickson said they’ll have a package in place for McCormick. He’ll be used in different situations.
Such is the case with all three. Erickson said the Utes will do some two-back stuff, move one into the slot and do things like that.
“So how are we going to use them?” he quipped. “I don’t know.”
Whittingham, meanwhile, said something similar when asked if any separation was taking place in camp.
“It’s been a day-to-day thing,” he said. “ Bubba is solid. Bubba is probably the most steady of the backs. But the other two can be spectacular at times.”
Poole enjoys the competition, explaining that it keeps him on his toes and he loves it.
“I think it’s good for me,” he said.
Although Poole entered camp on top of the depth chart, he isn’t taking anything for granted.
“I’m looking at it like the job isn’t mine — as if I’m coming for the spot as well. So every day I’m trying to come out and still show the coaches why I should be the starting running back,” Poole said. “I feel like I’ve got to take it if I do want it or whatever. I’m first on the depth chart. It’s my job to keep it, sort of thing.”
As such, Poole said he’s determined to live up to the standard every day by showing up and performing in every drill, in the weight room and in everything. He also takes pride in other things like film study and technique.
Booker also wants to be the starter. He’s made that clear.
“My expectation is to be the starting guy,” said Booker, who noted that things are going well, thus far, and that the running backs are working hard each day and competing.
A point of emphasis, he added, is avoiding mental mistakes.
“Coach Erickson, he doesn’t like that stuff, that’s the quickest way for us to get off the field — is to make a mental error,” Booker said. “So we just try to keep everything sharp each day.”
Booker added that everyone is working hard and pushing each other in camp.
McCormick agreed, noting that the running backs have been helping each other out. Much of it, though, is by example.
“As an individual you just work on yourself to get better and it just pushes everybody else’s tempo,” McCormick said. “We’re not worrying about each other and what everybody else is doing.”
McCormick acknowledged that it’s “cool” that a package is being created for him, but he’s still determined to get better.
After sitting out in 2013 as a redshirt, McCormick is eager to get back on the field — expressing no concern about his 172-pound frame and the rigors of Pac-12 football.
“I wanted to play last year as a true freshman,” he said. “I don’t care how small I am. It’s just weight. Weight is just a number, you know.
“I’m ready,” McCormick concluded.