Utah returns every quarterback from last season except Adam Schulz, who transferred to Houston, including Travis Wilson and Kendal Thompson, who both started games during the 2014 season. Wilson started 11 games, while Thompson started two and saw playing time in several others. Thompson's season was cut short due to a knee injury suffered against Oregon. Wilson has the most starting experience, has looked the best so far in spring, and is currently listed atop the depth chart, so it seems likely he will be the starter in 2015. in this article, we breakdown the contenders for the back up quarterback position.
Utah beat out Arizona when recruiting Cox. It makes sense why Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez was interested in Cox for his spread option offense because Cox is likely the most athletic quarterback on the Utah roster. I have heard from several defenders that Cox is the quarterback they least like to face since he is a true dual threat quarterback. The problem with Cox is he is still raw. So far this spring, he has struggled with his accuracy. Some of his misses have been bad misses, and he has thrown multiple interceptions. Overall, spring has not gone well so far for him. He saw action in the Idaho State game last season, going 3 for 3 for 17 yards passing plus two carries for 22 yards and one touchdown. Cox has a ton of upside with his athletic ability, but his struggles so far in spring are causing him to fall down the depth chart.
Hansen is back from his two year LDS mission and is in the thick of the quarterback battle. The former Lone Peak standout has the least arm strength of any of the quarterbacks. Where Hansen shines is with his natural athleticism. He is tough and is a great leader (he led his high school to a state championship in 2011). He is a smart player and has not made as many mistakes as his fellow underclassmen quarterbacks so far this spring. Minimizing turnovers is a key for Utah quarterbacks, so that could be why head coach Kyle Whittingham said that Hansen has pulled ahead of Conner Manning on the depth chart. Personally, I believe Hansen has a brighter future at linebacker for Utah, especially given the fact that Utah is thin at the position and will lose three senior starters after the 2015 season. He will never be an elite quarterback given his limited arm strength, but he can be a successful quarterback if he is in an offense that is tailor made to fit his skill set. He has decent accuracy on shorter throws and can stress the defense with his running/scrambling ability. If he stays at quarterback, I would not be surprised to see a wildcat-esque package to utilize his athleticism this season.
Isom spent his true freshman season on the scout team and received praise. The redshirt freshman from Destrehan, La. has ideal size at 6'3", 245. This is his first spring at Utah, and he is still quite raw. He looks lost at times and has struggled with his accuracy. Isom is a hard worker (he frequently was the last player to leave practice last season) and a natural leader. While he is not the most athletic quarterback on the Utah roster, he has enough speed, agility, and power in the open field to force a defense to respect his running ability. The size, potential, and work ethic is there with Isom, but it likely will take longer for him to get accustomed to the college game than some originally thought.
If Utah expects the quarterback to be a running threat, Manning will be at a disadvantage because he has the least mobility of any quarterback on the roster. With his lack of running ability, Manning will have to be the best pure passer on the team to move up the depth chart. In high school, Manning broke several of former USC quarterback Matt Barkley's Orange County passing records. When Thompson went down for the season, Manning won the competition for the backup quarterback position and played in the Arizona game. While the conditions were not ideal (bad weather, blow out game), Manning struggled. He went 2 for 6 for 28 yards and one interception returned for a touchdown. He was sacked once for a loss of five yards. Manning could be great in the right offense, but I am not sure Utah runs an offense that fits his skill set well. From what I have seen from Manning, I do not think he is accurate enough right now to make up for his lack of mobility in this offense.
Given his playing experience last season, Thompson seems the most likely to take the No. 2 spot on the depth chart. The Oklahoma transfer has struggled with injuries in his career, missing much of the 2013 season at Oklahoma due to a broken foot suffered the first day of fall camp and the season ending knee injury in 2014. When healthy, Thompson is a tough competitor with above average running ability. He led Utah to a win over then No. 8 UCLA at the Rose Bowl. He lacks the arm strength that Wilson has, with some of his passes (especially deeper ones) tending to float. He finished 2014 32 of 52 (61.5%) for 324 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. He added 192 rushing yards on 56 carries (3.43 yards per carry) and one touchdown. Thompson is a shifty runner in the open field and with good quickness. Despite the injuries, Thompson is tough, bouncing back up after big hits. In the few practices so far this spring, Thompson has appeared to pass the ball better. He passes have not floated as much as some did last year, and he appears to have better arm strength. It will difficult to gauge exactly where is his though until fall camp since he is being held out of all live work to allow his knee to recover, but he seems to be ahead of schedule and moves well on the field. Right now, Thompson appears to be the clear number two quarterback in my mind, and number three is not all that close.
While it seems likely that Wilson and Thompson will top the depth chart in the 2015 season, the battle for the third spot behind them is worth watching since Wilson and Thompson are both seniors. Whichever underclassmen takes the third spot will position himself well to become the starter for the 2016 season. While nothing official has been stated, it will also be interesting to see if all six scholarship quarterbacks are still playing quarterback at Utah come fall camp.