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Utah Utes QB situation gone from 'awful to awesome'

Published: Monday, May 21 2012 12:24 a.m. MDT

Utah quarterback Jon Hays (9) throws a touchdown pass against Georgia Tech's Euclid Cummings (99) during the Sun Bowl NCAA college football game on Saturday, Dec. 31, 2011, in El Paso, Texas. Utah won 30-27 in overtime. (AP Photo/El Paso Times, Victor Calzada)

Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — Last fall I wrote a column about the sorry state of the quarterbacks at the University of Utah. The headline of the column read "Utes' QB situation is plain awful."

Mind you, I don't write the headlines for my stories, but I couldn't argue with this one, since at some point in the column I wrote "the Utes may have the worst quarterback situation in the country."

Well, what a difference a few months can make. You could say the Utah quarterback situation has gone from "awful" to "awesome."

As the Utes head into summer workouts, they have a bunch of quarterbacks to choose from, five to be exact. In fact, as pleased as he was about the play of his quarterbacks in the spring, coach Kyle Whittingham had one big concern coming out of spring ball — how to narrow down the number of reps among five QBs so there's enough for only two.

"Right now I just know we can't keep giving reps to more than a couple of guys," Whittingham said. "There's not enough reps that can take place to get them game ready. I don't have an exact answer except that it can't continue the way we've done it this spring."

Whittingham had great things to say about all five of his quarterbacks — two-year starter Jordan Wynn, last year's fill-in starter Jon Hays, incoming freshmen Travis Wilson and Chase Hansen, and redshirt freshman Adam Schulz.

However, Whittingham isn't about to gush too much about his quarterbacks. He learned his lesson in 2006 when he declared that the Utes had the "best quarterback situation in the country."

Looking back, it was a pretty darn good situation. The Utes had Brian Johnson, who went on the lead the Utes to an unbeaten season two years later, Brett Ratliff, who has managed to stay on NFL rosters for four years and Tommy Grady, who is ripping up the Arena Football League this year as the quarterback for the Utah Blaze.

But Johnson ended up being too hurt to play that year, Grady never lived up to expectations and Ratliff was decent, but not great.

Last year was way worse, as the Utes limped through the season with basically one quarterback.

Hays, a JC transfer who had been signed at the last minute after getting zero Division I offers, replaced Wynn, who went out for the year with a shoulder injury in the fifth game. Tyler Shreve, who was supposed to be a promising freshman backup, turned out to be not so good and never played. Griff Robles, who had been a backup the year before, had already been moved to linebacker.

Hays played admirably, leading the Utes to six victories, including a stirring fourth-quarter comeback against Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl. But the Ute offense was built around running back John White and Hays' passing attempts were limited.

Now Hays is being viewed as a good insurance policy if Wynn should go down again or if the freshmen turn out to be not quite ready for prime time. Hays is a known quantity based on last year's performance and should be much better with a year under his belt. But he a senior, and no team wants a senior backup when it has a pair of highly recruited freshmen waiting in the wings.

The Utes, under new offensive coordinator Johnson, are expected to hand the reins back to Wynn, with one of the freshman, probably the lanky Wilson, as the backup.

Hansen is likely to go on an LDS mission after the season, so it makes sense to redshirt him and give him four straight years to play starting in 2015. As for Schulz, the walk-on from Wisconsin, he may have the strongest arm on the team as he showed in the final moments of the spring game when he connected on two passes of longer than 40 yards to lead the Red team to victory. But he's got a lot of talent to compete with.

So when will Whittingham decide who will be the two quarterbacks who get the reps in the fall?

"We've got to start to sort that out early in fall camp to determine who those guys are going to be that we really invest the reps in," he said.

It's a problem the Utes will solve, but it's nothing like the one they had last year at quarterback.

As Whitingham said of this year's dilemma, "It's a good problem to have."

email: sor@desnews.com

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