My first post on this site was a season preview of 2009. It's hard to believe it's been more than a year since I wrote that, my time here since then has been great. This year I decided to wait a bit later cause I wrote last years in July, thus some of my picks to start (like Corbin Louks before he transferred ) didn't pan out well. My previews are divided into two parts. This one will cover my opinion on potential starters. Part 2 will cover my view on the season itself .
I am pumped for this year as much as any Ute fan, we all expected a few bumps in 2009 after a very good 2008. Well, we got just that. Now that the offense has a year under it's belt (not to mention a clear starter at QB) good things could happen this year. Let's get down to business:
MY GRADE- A-
As I mentioned, this year we don't have to spend camp determining who will be behind center on September 2. Jordan Wynn is the key to how well this team will do in 2010. The question is how much has Wynn improved and can he play this season the way we saw him against Cal in the Poinsettia Bowl. I firmly believe that Wynn will do great and is the second best QB in the league (behind TCU's Andy Dalton). Playing behind Wynn is Terrence Cain. Yes, we know he was good but ultimately wasn't consistent enough to keep the job , word is though he has also improved greatly since last year. I actually feel relieved to have someone of his experience should Wynn get hurt. We all saw Cain can win games too. Speaking in a more optimistic sense, I see Cain being a change of pace guy (similar to what Corbin Louks was in 2007) because I think he's a better runner than Wynn. Bottom line: we have two guys who have experience and have won Division I games, not a lot of MWC teams can claim the same.
MY GRADE- A
Even with a great QB to run the spread offense Utah has never been short on talent at tailback. This years backfield Is no different. I actually think this years RB corps is the best I've seen. We have two guys who have had great seasons in the past and what's better is that they play two different styles of running.
First we have long time Ute Matt Asiata, He plays a very physical style of running and isn't afraid to get dirty. The downside is he hasn't been very lucky and got injured several times . I'm of the opinion though that he could be this years version of former back Marty Johnson (who had very similar injury problems). The other great advantage Matt provides is veteran leadership. He's been here a while so he'll be a great example to the new guys. I also look forward to Matt running the wildcat again (no offense Shaky but I think Matt ran it more effectively)
secondly, (although not necessarily option #2) is Eddie Wide. Wide also likes to play physical but unlike Matt he's more of a speed back. When Matt went down last year, Wide certainly didn't disappoint by stepping up and having a 1000 yd. season. Just like our situation at QB, having two great guys is a big plus for us. Let us not forget other options though. Sausan Shakerin showed tremendous promise last year and we also have highly touted recruit Lucky Radley in the mix.
MY GRADE- B-
This group has the most to prove on offense in my mind. Even though the play at receiver was great last year (namely David Reed) It didn't live up to it's full potential. This year we lost some familiar faces but we have a lot of talent stepping up that could be great for us this year and in the future. Starting off we have veteran Jereme Brooks leading the pack. Brooks has great speed and he blocks very well, I see him being our go-to guy without question.
Shaky Smithson also returns along with Luke Matthews and DeVonte Christopher. Smithson is a true player and like his name implies, he has moves that make him tough to take down. I really hope he can become the player we look to when we need to convert a third down. I also hope he excels again at the punt return game. Matthews and Christopher played well, and look to get better with a year under their belts. We also have new faces at receiver who could make some noise. Walk-on Griffin McNabb impressed many coaches with his great speed at spring ball, he also looks to be an option at kickoff returns along with Christopher. Other names to look out for are Sean Fitzgerald, Reggie Dunn and four star recruits Kenneth Scott and Terrell Reese
We also have plenty of talent at tight end too. Kendrick Moeai turned a couple of heads with his play in the Poinsettia Bowl, I see the TE playing a bigger role this year with guys like him , and senior Brad Clifford on board.
MY GRADE- A+
Even with the loss of Zane Beadles, we got two All-MWC players on our team, so I think this years O-line also hold the keys to how well we do on offense. Anchoring the center position is senior Zane Taylor who looks to be a great leader on the line. At left guard we have fourth year starter Caleb Schlauderaff who has been a rock on O-line. I can easily see both of these guys earning First All-MWC team honors this year. There's also plenty of talent at other positions, Right guard is up for grabs, which is great cause we have two great guys in Tevita Stevens and Sam Brenner. At Right Tackle, we have Tony Bergstrom who is a beast (6’6”, 315). The real question is who will fill Beadles spot at Left Tackle. The obvious choice would be highly touted JC recruit John Cullen but I think he''l get good competition from redshirt freshman Percy Taumoelau. Bottom line: the o-line has the potential to be the best in the MWC this year.
MY GRADE - B-
Joe Phillips made great steps filling in for Ute legend Louie Sakoda, hopefully he has improved his range this year. I have to give him props though, he was the most consistent kicker as far as field goal percentage last year in the MWC. I also think the loss of Ben Vroman on Kick-off will hurt (the guy was automatic getting touchbacks) but hopefully we won't see a huge drop off with his replacement Nick Marsh. Sean Sellwood did great in punting last year but the punt coverage really needs to improve if we want to succeed.
Coach Whittingham's bread and butter has always been defense. Having said, that I'm sure we can fill most the holes we have on the defensive side of the ball. Most of the experience coming back this year is our boys at DT. I really hope this year we can improve our run defense and play the way we know they can. Leading the way are Tackles Dave Kruger and Sealver Siliga who have all-MWC potential. It doesn't stop there though, highly touted recruit James Aiono missed out last year due to academics but if he's as good as advertised, we could have great depth at DT with guys like Aiono, Neli A’asa and Latu Heimuli. DT is certainly the strong point of 2010's defense. At DE we also have good talent. some say we lack a true pass rusher this year but I hope we prove them wrong. Starting off we have veteran Derrick Shelby who looks to play well after being injured last year. He'll try to win back his starters role from Christian Cox who replaced him and did a admirable job (leading the team in sacks). The question is can the Utes replace star Koa Misi at right end. Following in his brothers Paul's footsteps is highly touted freshman Joe Kruger. we'll see great competition for the RE job between him and Junior Tui’one.
MY GRADE- C+
This area is one of the question marks on defense. The loss of stud like Stevenson Sylvester and Kepa Gaison hurts us badly (not to mention the loss of Nai Fotu in spring camp) . We aren't completely without experience though. Looking to improve is J.J. Williams who will replace Sly at rover . I think he'll be better than last year thanks to a year of football after returning from a mission. Another solid option is Chad Manis (a former QB) who looks to solidify the stud linebacker position. Other names that could make great steps in replacing talent at LB include Matt Martinez, Chaz Walker, Boo Anderson and of course the highly recruited V.J. Fehoko.
MY GRADE- B-
Our other glaring weakness on paper is our secondary defense (primarily at safety). However, we have good talent that will help out tremendously in replacing star Robert Johnson. Leading the pack is All-American candidate Brandon Burton. On the other side at corner is Lamar Chapman who played most nickel last year.Other faces at corner include speedster Conroy Black,Reggie Topps and Kameron Yancy.
As far as safety goes, Justin Taplin-Ross was a decent back up to Joe Dale but now that Dale is gone, he looks to get a lot of minutes at strong safety. Other names who could make a dent are Damian Payne, Chris Washington, Joseph Smith and athlete Victor Spikes.
Well that wraps it up for part 1. I'm looking forward to a great year boys.