Utah football opened spring camp today. The team did not wear pads and did not do any tackling in practice. One big takeaway from practice was that the offense will run plays this season from under center to help make the play action passing game more potent. Head coach Kyle Whittingham says that will still be a spread offense that just now includes some plays from under center.
The biggest thing that stood out in practice is the confidence in this Utah team. A certain chip on their shoulder has re-emerged in this Utah football program. Maybe a willingness to prove that the impact Utah has made in the Pac-12 and the national standings in the past couple of years is no fluke is the motivating factor for this team or a desire to build on the success Utah has enjoyed the past two seasons.
The quarterback battle got underway today, and all three of the candidates: Brandon Cox, Tyler Huntley, and Troy Williams did some nice things. Williams definitely has the strongest arm of the three. There were times though when he threw the ball too hard. All three of the quarterbacks had a quick release and showed off their dual-threat abilities extending plays with their legs. Williams and Cox both had interceptions. Huntley showed poise in his first Division I practice. He did a nice job taking what the defense gave him, hitting short passes to open receivers. He had a great throw to his high school teammate Demari Simpkins for his first touchdown pass. Cox and Williams both had a higher release and more arc on their throws than Huntley. Cox made some very nice throws during the practice, but he did have a tendency to underthrow his deep balls. He also had several balls batted at the line.
While Cox and Williams are listed atop the depth chart, do not rule out Huntley just because he is a true freshman. He is a true freshman that enrolled early and is already making his mark on this Utah football squad. He is smart and willing to put in the work. While he may not start this season, he certainly has a lot of potential.
The biggest takeaway is speed. Joe Williams and Troy McCormick are both really fast. McCormick did not show any lingering signs of injury. He looked quick and made some really nice cuts. Williams outran the entire defense for a long touchdown. He looks like he added a bit of good weight in the offseason as well. Utah has a strong tradition at running back, and the coaches expect that Williams or McCormick rushes for over 1,000 yards this season.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
The group that seems to have the most to prove are the wide receivers. They were mouthy, aggressive and completely ready to go. While it is still early, I thought the wide receivers as a whole looked pretty good. Kyle Fulks had a really nice day. He is incredibly fast and has nice moves in the open field. Co-offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick highlighted Fulks as one of the players who had a good day. Raelon Singleton looked good in practice as well. He is big, fast, and has good hands. Cory Butler-Byrd proved to be a nice deep threat at wide receiver, showing off good speed. Tyrone Smith had some nice catches on the day. Kenric Young showed off his speed after the catch several times in practice. Simpkins had the nice long touchdown catch from Huntley, but he did have a few drops as well.
The tight ends were heavily involved in the passing game. Wallace Gonzalez, Ken Hampel, and Harrison Handley all had a lot of catches in practice. Handley looked like he added some weight and kept his speed.
Overall, I thought the offense looked better on the first day of spring camp this year than last year. They are not having to install a new offense, so it felt like they were able to worry more about playing football than just remembering the offense. There still are a lot of things that need to be cleaned up. There were problems at times with the quarterback-center exchange from under center (otherwise the offensive line played very well), and there were some drops, but the offense showed promise.
The defense forced several fumbles and had some very nice pass breakups. They recorded several interceptions and sacks as well. This defense is fast, aggressive and all kinds of nasty. Brian Allen looks to be well settled in at the cornerback position. The linebackers will be a mystery until fall camp when all of the 2016 signees join the team. The defensive line is going to be flat out ridiculous. Utah is going to have the advantage in the trenches in every single game this season.
Andy Phillips as expected looked very good kicking field goals. Punter Mitch Wishnowski looks the part. He has a huge leg, and he is every bit the 6'2", 220 he is listed at. Whittingham said he could probably play linebacker. With his size and speed, he could be dangerous on fake punts.
Overall a very good day. Practice was intense. Guys were flying around and striving to make every play count. it literally felt like they had been practicing for a couple of weeks instead of it just being the first practice of spring.
Be sure to listen to our interviews with coaches and players where we touch on the quarterback competition, the addition of snaps from under center, standout players from the first day of practice and more.