Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Commentary: Utah football's way-too-early position-by-position breakdown (12 items)

By , Deseret News

Feb. 19, 2014

Utah's fourth season in the Pac-12 begins on Aug. 28, which is still 190 days (or six months, nine days) away. It's obviously way too early to talk about how Utah football will do this fall. Spring camp is still a little more than two weeks out.

That won't stop us from talking about it anyway.

There's so many questions headed into 2014. Who will start at quarterback? How can the Utes adapt after losing a lot of NFL-level talent? How will the offense respond with a new offensive coordinator?

Here's our way-too-early position-by-position breakdown for the Utah Utes.

Lafe Peavler is a Web sports writer for the Deseret News. Follow him on Twitter @LafePeavler.

1 of 12. Offensive overview

The Utes have a lot of figuring out to do on this side of the ball before the season begins. They've been snakebit at quarterback for the past two seasons. They also need to find a leader at running back, shore up the offensive line and find more wide receivers and/or tight ends to help take pressure off Dres Anderson.

And to top it all off, Kyle Whittingham has shuffled the offensive staff again. New offensive coordinator and former Wyoming head coach Dave Christensen has his work cut out for him as he tries to put together an offense capable of moving the ball against Pac-12 defenses.

2 of 12. Quarterback

The Utes have been incredibly unlucky at quarterback for the past two seasons, and it's no coincidence that Utah hasn't gone to a bowl game over that same period.

Travis Wilson's season came to an unfortunate end due to a severe head injury, and it's unclear if he'll be able to return this season. That's a pity given that he had some solid games last season, such as his 303 yards passing and two touchdowns against Utah State and 273 yards and two touchdowns vs. arch-rival BYU. While he didn't have a perfect season, Ute fans would love to at least see him healthy enough to play.

Adam Schulz started in Wilson's place, and his performance was less than stellar. He finished the season completing just 75 of his 154 attempts for 1,008 yards, six touchdowns and five interceptions. There's no guarantee that he'll be the starter if Wilson is unable to compete.

That means that redshirt freshmen Connor Manning and Brandon Cox will be able to compete for the starting position. Manning was Shulz' backup, but the Utes didn't want to burn his redshirt unless it was completely necessary. He has a solid arm, but who knows how he'll perform at the FBS level. However, given the last two Heisman Trophy winners were redshirt freshmen, there's hope.

However, there's one more intriguing possibility. True freshman Donovan Isom could also make a push for the starting position.

Clearly, the Utes have a lot to figure out between now and August.

3 of 12. Running back

Utah just hasn't been the same at this position since John White IV graduated. The coaching staff struggled to find consistency or take advantage of hot streaks from some of their running backs.

Bubba Poole has a ton of potential and had some big games last season. He rushed for 117 yards and a touchdown against Oregon State, 96 yards against BYU and 111 yards in the Utes' big upset against Stanford. However, he left the Arizona game with concussion-like symptoms and wasn't the same since that game. The most he rushed for after that game was 54 yards against Oregon. He's an elusive, speedy back who also catch passes from out of the backfield.

The Utes will need Lucky Radley to also step up this season. While he had 111 yards against Weber State, he had only one other game (at Arizona) where he had more than 50 yards rushing. That's particularly true given that Kelvin York's not coming back.

We could see more of sophomore Marcus Sanders-Williams. He played in just one game last season against Weber State. There's also a chance that incoming freshman D.J. Law could push to move up the depth chart.

4 of 12. Wide receiver

Utah took a massive hit at wide receiver when Kenneth Scott went down to an ankle injury in the first week last season. Scott had 32 receptions for 360 yards and three touchdowns in 2012, and his production was expected to rise in 2013. Dres Anderson had his work cut out for him after Scott went down. He put together a solid performance with 1,002 yards and seven touchdowns receiving last season, and six games with 100 or more yards, including 141 yards against arch-rival BYU. The Utes will be glad to have Scott back on the field along with Anderson this season as they'll form a formidable WR duo.

The Utes will look to JUCO transfer Kaelin Clay to contribute right away. He had 995 yards and 16 touchdowns last season playing for Mt. San Antonio College. Given that Sean Fitzgerald and Anthony Denham have both graduated, Clay should have plenty of opportunity to make an impact this season.

5 of 12. Tight end

The Utes will have a hard time replacing Jake Murphy, particularly with the way he played his final three games after returning from injury. Murphy decided to forgo his senior season and will be performing at the NFL Combine.

Westlee Tonga returns after his knee injury against BYU sidelined him for the season. Tonga has limited in-game experience as he has just seven receptions and one touchdown over his career. The Utes will need him to step up in a hurry.

Then, there's sophomore Siale Fakailoatonga. He had just two receptions for 18 yards last season, and the Utes will expect more of him next year.

1. RBN
Salt Lake City, UT,
Feb. 19, 2014

News flash, Sam Tevi is by several accounts moving to the O Line. He's a super athlete. I wouldn't be surprised to see him at OT.

2. Live From the Swamp
Holladay, UT,
Feb. 19, 2014

Way, way, WAY too early.

3. Utes Fan
Salt Lake City, UT,
Feb. 22, 2014

Excellent article. I agree with the analysis. What about local 4-star recruit Harvey Langi? Isn't he due to be back from his mission before the season begins?

4. u25
West Jordan, UT,
Feb. 24, 2014

Why no mention of Gioni Paul at linebacker. He sat out last year after transferring from Miami. He was the best defensive player on the team last year when he couldnt play. The linebacker group will carry this team next year. Norris, Paul and Whittingham are all, all conference players.