View from the Booth: Questions loom after Utes' first scrimmage
SALT LAKE CITY — One scrimmage down, two to go — and just a few questions answered. The Utes held their first scrimmage of the fall Thursday morning at Rice-Eccles Stadium and, for those hoping to have a bunch of questions answered ... well, you'll have to wait until at least next week.
The biggest question in Camp Kyle this fall clearly centers on quarterback Jordan Wynn and the health of his shoulder. After being held out of practice three days ago, Wynn was solid and efficient in Thursday's scrimmage, going 9-for-17 for 152 yards and a touchdown.
Afterward, both offensive coordinator Norm Chow and head coach Kyle Whittingham seemed pleased with Wynn's effort. What remains very apparent is that Utah's hopes of competing at a high level in its first year in the Pac-12 lie squarely on the right shoulder of Jordan Wynn.
Backup QB Jon Hayes struggled mightily against the first- and second-team defense. Hayes, who is still clearly the second-best QB on the roster, went 4-for-12 for 27 yards and tossed three interceptions. A week into camp and three weeks until the opener against Montana State, it's Jordan Wynn or bust with the Utah offense.
As for the running game, it doesn't appear to have evolved at the rate Chow and Whittingham would have hoped for by now. John White appears to be the frontrunner coming out of Thursday's scrimmage, where he ran for 47 yards on 12 carries. It was tougher sledding for true freshman Harvey Langi, who gained just 10 yards on seven carries. Rugby phenom Thretton Palamo looked lost at times.
The backfield surprise thus far has been the re-emergence of Tauni Vakapuna. It wouldn't surprise me so see him make an appearance on the three-deep chart soon.
Whittingham and Chow have talked repeatedly about wanting a "downhill" running game this season. After a week, the jury is still out, but positive signs are emerging.
One thing has become quite apparent to those observing practice and scrimmages this fall: The defense is deep and talented. Utah's front seven may very well be as good as any in the Pac-12. In a week's worth of football it's hard to differentiate between the first and second teams along the defensive line.
Three players who have really stood out to me over the first week are Star Lotulelei, who is virtually un-blockable without a double team; Derrick Shelby, who is back where he is best suited at defensive end; and wideout-turned-defensive-end Nate Fakahafua. The Highland High product, who is making quite an impression on his teammates and coaches, is a freakish athlete that will be hard to keep off the field this fall. During Thursday's scrimmage, Fakahafua had an interception and a sack.
It may be early but it looks like Whittingham has found his safeties in juco transfer Keith McGill and Texas freshman Eric Rowe. Despite the fact they both are listed at free safety, Whittingham and defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake have been very clear about the fact that the best two safeties will be on the field together this fall.
The battle for the starting corner spots still appears to be open, with Conroy Black, Ryan Lacy and Reggie Topps competing for those positions.
One week into fall camp, the biggest question mark seems to be the place-kicking game, where Nick Marsh and Coleman Petersen continue to battle it out.
Marsh was 3-for-6 in Thursday's scrimmage, missing two and having one blocked, while Petersen was 3-for-4 on his attempts, missing from 35 yards out.
After six years of solid play in the kicking game, the Utes may head into the opener against Montana State unsettled at the position.
Double-day practices continue for the Utes, with the next scrimmage set for Tuesday. That's when some of the tough decisions on positional battles will likely be decided.
Bill Riley can be heard as the voice of the University of Utah on gamedays and also on weekdays from 2-6 p.m. on the "Bill and Spence Show" on ESPN Radio 700 AM.
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