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Utah Football Spring Update – Are the Utes the favorites in the P12 South?

After an underwhelming 2017 campaign, Kyle Whittingham and the Utes are looking to make big strides in the coming season.

Coming into spring ball, there were a few question marks surrounding Utah football. As the team takes shape, we’re starting to find answers to those questions.

“We have a chance this fall to be really, really good,” said Whittingham. “We’ve had an extremely productive spring and I think the whole team has improved. Now we just have to see how bad we want it.”

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Under Center

The Utes are in good hands at the QB position. Tyler Huntley has put on weight and shown vast fundamental improvements this offseason. As expected in his second year, Huntley has developed into a more confident passer and looks more comfortable in the pocket, although there’s still room to grow in that area.

Behind Huntley, the Utes have plenty of depth starting with freshmen phenom Jack Tuttle. Tuttle has shown Ute faithful why they should be excited about his arrival in Salt Lake City this spring. The freshman throws the ball with ease and regularly displays NFL-type ball placement. He is still adjusting to Pac-12-level speed, but is about as far along as you can expect out of a kid that should be going to senior prom next week. I expect Jason Shelley to be the third string, but he’s a capable playmaker who would be seeing more snaps at just about any other school in the country.

Backfield

Don’t worry, be happy. Zack Moss has fledged into a legitimate NFL prospect, he’ll be steamrolling defenders and moving the chains early and often. Armand Shyne returns after missing 2017 and has proven to be productive in the past. Don’t forget about the electric Devontae Henry-Cole, who averaged 5.1 yards per carry in 2017.

Receiving Corps 

After the departure of Darren Carrington and Raelon Singleton, the Utes are looking for guys to step up in a big way – they have no shortage of such guys. Damari Simkins has capitalized on the chemistry he shares with Hallandale High School teammate Tyler Huntley. The addition of Bronson Boyd has already proven to be beneficial as the Texas Tech transfer splashed on the scene as a premier pass catcher. Siaosi Mariner, Jameson Field, Samson Nacua and Tyquez Hampton are all capable receivers. Junior Jake Jackson has distanced himself as the first option at tight end, a position that’s used sparingly in Troy Taylor’s offense. Even without Britain Covey, Solomon Enis and Terrell Perriman – who are all set to join the Utes in the fall – there is no shortage of playmakers on the outsides.

Offensive Line 

The Utes starting offensive line looks to be solid. Per usual, Jim Harding has a few NFL-caliber guys manning the trenches. Depth, however, could become an issue with this bunch. Behind the first team, the OBlock has struggled this spring. We’ll be looking for a few guys to separate themselves as the ‘next man up’ in the final week of spring ball.

 

Defensive Line 

As always, the defensive line looks stout for the Utes. Leki Fotu is a monster. No, I mean that. I think Leki Fotu was created in a lab. His rare combination of size, speed and hair will surely cause plenty of turmoil for opposing offenses. Bradlee Anae returns as the anchor of the exterior D-Line. Anae led the Utes in TFL and sacks last season and will continue to be a problem in 2018. Coach Whittingham has singled out Mika Tafua as the possible starter at the opposite end.

Backers 

The Chase Hansen LB experiment is going smoothly. His unique football instincts and natural feel for the game put Hansen in position on every snap. Hansen is still looking to add a little size to his frame, but has shown that he’ll be reliable in the middle if healthy. Cody Barton is not the same player he was in 2017 and has been one of the biggest difference makers on the defensive side of the ball this spring. Donavan Thompson, Bryant Pirtle and Andrew Mata’afa will be expected to step up and add depth in the fall.

Secondary 

With a defensive backfield that Kyle Whittingham calls the deepest and most talented unit he’s had, there’s certainly high expectations for 2018. From what we’ve seen this spring, the Utes shouldn’t have any issues living up to the hype. Julian Blackmon, Jaylon Johnson, Javelin Guidry and Marquis Blair highlight a secondary that has pro-potential two-deep. This Utah defense should be among the Pac-12’s best.

Special Teams 

Utah special teams is a unit that you never have to worry about. Matt Gay returns after winning the Lou Groza Award in 2017 and has somehow gotten better.


2016 Ray Guy award winners Mitch Wishnowsky returns to punt for the Utes. With Britain Covey and co. returning kicks and the two aforementioned guys booting them, Utah will find themselves winning the field position battle frequently.

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“I think the pieces are there,” Whittingham said. “It’s up to us to put them together. If we continue to improve and develop, we’ll be in a position to compete come fall.”

With rebuilding going on around other parts of the Pac-12 South, the door is open for the Utes to get over the hump in 2018.

Utah will finish up their spring season next week with practices on Tuesday and Thursday, wrapping up with the Red/White game at Rice-Eccles Stadium on Saturday(11a.m.)

 

For more Utes and local coverage, follow Porter on twitter @Larsen_ESPN and subscribe on Youtube.


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