Head Coach Kyle Whittingham's 2014 spring football camp comes to a close with the Red-White Spring Football Game held today at 1 pm MT in Rice-Eccles Stadium. After a disappointing 5-7 2013 season, Utah fans will be looking for signs of improvement after an offseason that included coaching turnover at the offensive coordinator, offensive line, wide receivers, and special teams coaching positions.
Several new coaches, chief among them offensive coordinator Dave Christensen, the former head coach at Wyoming, joined the Utah staff for the upcoming season. The units of new offensive line coach Jim Harding and wide receivers coach Taylor Stubblefield will be particularly scrutinized today, as the O-line and receivers didn't perform as expected in 2013. Last season's co-offensive coordinator (and former Miami and Arizona State head coach), Dennis Erickson, takes charge of an interesting stable of running backs. Last season's starter, Bubba Poole, appears to have put some distance between he and the backups, but it will be 5-11, 209-pound junior college transfer Devontae Booker and 5-9, 172-pound Texas freshman Troy McCormick who may garner to the most attention, as depth is the question for the 2014 season. Less settled however, is the quarterback situation. Last season's starter, Travis Wilson, is being pushed by redshirt freshman Connor Manning, and even last season's backup Adam Schultz is being pushed by athletic redshirt freshman Brandon Cox. Wilson will start under center for the Red team with Cox as his backup, while Manning will command the White team, with Schultz backing him up.
Returning to the field after a medical condition nearly derailed his career, Wilson has shown some rust in spring camp. Fans in attendance will be looking for Wilson to have command of his team, make good decisions (after a season which saw him throw 16 interceptions), and quickly run Christensen's hurry-up Fast Forward offense.
Quarterback Connor Manning, a player some suspected might get a shot at the starting job last season after the injury to Wilson, has been pushing hard for the top position this spring. Manning demonstrated a strong arm, good decision making, and impressive command of the huddle for a freshman. Regardless of the spring game, Manning will be in the quarterback battle come fall camp.
Utah's defense will feature some noticeable absences as starting linebackers, Gionni Paul and Jacoby Hale suffered spring injuries that will keep them out for an undetermined amount of time. Both are expected to return some time in the 2014 season. The Utes secondary, a position of weakness in 2013, looks to have improved with the return of safety Brian Blechen, although it will be interesting to see where the senior lines up with the injuries to the linebackers. Fellow senior Davion Orphey has markedly improved to add depth to the unit that includes returning starter Eric Rowe, and sophomore Hipolito Corporan has shown a determination and talent that may land him playing time in the fall.
In addition to his head coaching duties, Whittingham takes over special team coordination for the 2014 season. Punter Tom Hackett and place kicker Andy Phillips return for the upcoming season, which should help the head coach sleep better. However, Phillips may have returned better than last year, as he has already booted a 59-yard field goal in spring practices. A scoring weapon that is available anytime Utah crosses the opponent's 40 could make the upcoming season much more interesting, as well as the spring game.
Utah fans outside of the state, or who can't be in attendance, can catch the Red-White Spring Football Game live on Pac-12 Networks. Rosters for the Red and White teams can be found at: http://grfx.cstv.com/photos/schools/utah/sports/m-footbl/auto_pdf/2013-14/misc_non_event/Utah2014RedWhiteRosters.pdf