Utah football took to the practice field for the first day of 2017 fall camp. The players were not in pads and were not hitting each other. We also were only able to see about 20 minutes of practice. We did collect interviews with nine different players and coaches to help give a picture of how practice went and how the team feels about the new offense, the quarterback battle, the new faces on both sides of the ball, and their attitude heading into the 2017 season.
The quarterback battle kicked off, and returning starter Troy Williams looked the best during the media observation time. He has poise and confidence. What was maybe the most impressive thing about Williams though was that he was the last player off the field. He was getting in extra throwing reps and then he got in extra running. It shows the level of dedication he has to be successful. He said that his family is counting on him. Tyler Huntley made some nice plays, and he is the quickest quarterback and can escape pressure and do a lot of damage running. He made a few more ill-advised throws into coverage than Williams. Cooper Bateman saw fewer reps, and he is certainly talented, but he struggled a bit was accuracy more so than Williams and Huntley.
We got interviews with all three quarterbacks, and they are all worth listening to. Williams is a very funny guy; he talks about bonding with teammates playing Madden, and no one can beat him, though running back Zack Moss is pretty good. He also touched on what it means to be an African-American quarterback and some of the stigmas that come with it. He delves into the new offense with offensive coordinator Troy Taylor (who we also caught up with). Huntley and Bateman both have great attitudes and want to help the team, knowing full well that only one player can start at quarterback. Also, do not think there is any bad blood between Williams and Huntley because they are roommates when the team travels and get along great.
Utah is strong once again at running back. Armand Shyne and Zack Moss both looked faster today than they did last season. Devontae Henry-Cole and T.J. Green also both had some nice runs and bring slightly different skills to the table than the two bruisers in Moss and Shyne. Henry-Cole is not a small back, but he is a bit shorter and a little shiftier, while Green is more of an all-purpose back.
There was a lot to like today from the wide receivers. First, let’s start with Darren Carrington. He was not made available to the media for interviews, but almost everyone else we talked to talked about him. Head coach Kyle Whittingham praised his work ethic. Fellow wide receiver Raelon Singleton said he is still new, but he is fitting in and is part of the group. So, how did he look? In a word, awesome. He had a contested catch along the sideline that was excellent (in the highlight video posted by Utah Football). He also burned by Casey Hughes, one of the fastest defensive backs on the team on another route. It is only day one, but he showed off his ability to go up and get the football in contested situations, and his ability to beat defenders deep, two things he did incredibly well at Oregon. Other receivers who had a nice day were Demari Simpkins, Siaosi Wilson, Tyquez Hampton, and Bryan Thompson. Simpkins showed great hands, making several tough catches. He also had an incredible juke move (seen in the highlight video). Wilson catches pretty much everything thrown his way. Hampton has great hands and technique for catching the football. Thompson had a few catches and saw a lot of action in his first practice at Utah.
It is really hard to get much of a feel for the offensive line when there are no pads, but defensive end Kylie Fitts praised Leka Uhatafe. He said he is much quicker than he was last season. Uhatafe is one of the leaders on the offensive line along with Jackson Barton and Lo Falemaka according to Troy Williams. Uhatafe is huge, but he is light on his feet and should do well moving from right guard to right tackle.
Again, it is hard to tell line play without pads, but there are plenty of known commodities along the defensive line with guys like Fitts and Lowell Lotulelei. Fitts said that last year was hard for him after losing his grandfather and then missing most of the season with a broken foot. His family and teammates helped him get through the tough time. His foot is back to normal and not bothering him, but he said he does need to work on his conditioning. He praised some of the younger defensive linemen but said there are some defensive ends that need to add some weight.
The secondary features a lot of new players. One of the most exciting names is true freshman Jaylon Johnson, who was practicing for the first time at Utah. Johnson was frequently matched up against Carrington during the media viewing session and held his own against him. Whittingham praised Johnson and said he had some very impressive reps. Johnson came to Utah in part because he saw the opportunity for early playing time. He has plenty of confidence and backed it up on the field today. Personally, I think defensive backs need to have some swagger. Johnson has great size and definitely does not look like a true freshman on his first day of practice. Casey Hughes, Julian Blackmon, and Corrion Ballard all earned praise from Whittingham as well.
I think the biggest takeaway from practice today was the intensity from the players. Whittingham saw the urgency he wants to see from his players. Huntley, Singleton, and Williams all said that the offense is buying in more to Taylor’s system than they did last year with Aaron Roderick, and it has translated to confidence from the players.
Below is a highlight video from Utah football showing off some of the big plays of the day: