It’s appearing like Utah has found a gem on the JUCO circuit in running back Devontae Booker. Kyle Whittingham keeps on bringing up Booker every time reporters ask him who’s standing out, as he continues to show off his best effort against the defense. Matthew Piper has more.
Thursday’s practice was the third straight in which the junior transfer gashed Utah’s defense on seemingly every other handoff, his red No. 27 disappearing into a swarm of black jerseys and emerging on the other side at the same speed.
"He’s a natural with the ball in his hands," Whittingham says. "There’s a lot more to a running back than just running the football, but that’s his strong suit. … All the things that you need to do in the run game that we have here, he seems to be very natural at."
The Utes have really struggled to find a replacement for John White. The offense really could not get going without consistent production from the rushing attack, and it ground to a halt on too many big occasions. A lot of that has to do with an ineffective offensive line, but the running backs that Utah threw out last season (James Poole and Kelvin York) aren’t really the explosive runners Utah needs to generate big offensive plays. It’s sounding like Booker could be that guy, and if his JUCO tape matches up to the spring reports he could be capable of some fall magic.
Booker just looks good the moment he gets into open field. His high build and long steps make it difficult for a defense to take him down. He just makes people miss, and it sounds like he’s doing similar things at practice. His instincts are impressing Whittingham the most, as he commented on his quickness and great vision.
There haven't been many public notes on Poole yet. UteZone has a paid article on him here ($).
- Travis Wilson remains firmly entrenched as the starting quarterback and takes most of the snaps. Conner Manning and Adam Schulz are battling for that crucial second spot. Manning probably had the most impressive throw of the day, which you can watch below in the video highlights for the day.
- Linebacker Jacoby Hale had a knee injury but walked off the field under his own power.
- Defensive coordinator Kilani Sitake knows the stakes of this season, and that urgency has picked up everywhere else on the Utes coaching staff.
"There’s a lot more urgency to get a lot more done," he said. "We have to do it all right now. The only way to fix that is to win games and get to a bowl game. That’s our goal. We want to get better as a team and get better as a defense. That’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to utilize all the practice time, put on the pads, and we’re going to hit and get better. For us, you’re going to have to hit and fight and claw and compete with each other. That only happens when you take the field and take it serious."
Sitake probably isn't just referring to the program, but his own stability as well. Everyone on Utah's coaching staff will be under the microscope this season, and they know it.