Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — As Utah’s spring camp approaches the midway point, the quarterback competition is beginning to separate.
After Saturday’s practice at Rice-Eccles Stadium — the sixth of 15 spring sessions for the Utes — head coach Kyle Whittingham acknowledged that a pecking order had developed between Travis Wilson, Adam Schulz, Conner Manning and Brandon Cox for the top spot in camp.
“Travis is still No. 1 and really the battle right now is for two and three with Conner and Schulz,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. “And then Brandon Cox right now is four. So that’s kind of where we’re at.”
Even so, Whittingham added that the live work before the weekend break would provide some good material for evaluation and give the coaching staff a lot more information on the quarterbacks.
Wilson, who has been cleared for non-contact drills after missing the last three games of 2013 because of an intracranial artery injury, is pleased with how things are going thus far. The junior admits, however, that he’s got a lot of things to clean up and wants to throw the ball a little bit better.
“I definitely feel like I’m getting back in my groove a little bit and it’s nice just being back out on the field,” Wilson said. “And I’m really happy just being back with my teammates, too.”
Schulz, a junior who started in place of Wilson at the end of last season, also likes how things are progressing. He added that the quarterbacks are picking up the changes that new offensive coordinator Dave Christensen has introduced and that the offense is coming together.
“We’ve got a healthy competition here,” said Schulz, who noted that the quarterbacks are friends and that everyone is having fun.
As for the number of reps each player is getting in camp, Schulz explained that they’re pretty much getting what they earn right now.
“Obviously everybody’s kind of getting mixed in and we are just seeing what everybody can do,” Schulz said. “As far as discouraging? No. If anything I guess it makes you more hungry because you know what reps are at stake and you know what you want to get.”
Manning, a redshirt freshman, acknowledged there’s a lot of quarterbacks in the competition. The cast will grow this fall when Oklahoma transfer Kendal Thompson and Louisiana prep star Donovan Isom join the list of candidates.
“For me, I look at it as just more competition and I love competition,” Manning said. “I think it’s healthy for you.”
After watching from the sidelines last season, Manning is eager to get back into action. He feels prepared to do so.
“As a competitor, you always want to play, but Coach wanted me to redshirt, so that’s what I did and I gained a lot of experience from it,” said Manning, who ran an offense in high school similar to the one Christensen is overseeing at Utah. “So for me it’s very similar and familiar. I love this type of offense.”
Manning admits, though, that spring camp always has its ups and downs.
“But so far I feel like offensively we’ve progressed a lot and we’re still going to,” he said. “It’s still early, so we’ve got a couple of more weeks to get a lot better. But I feel really good where we’re at right now.”
BOOKER BUSTING OUT: Junior college transfer Devontae Booker is making a name for himself in camp. The running back is drawing regular praise from Whittingham. He said the 5-foot-11, 209-pounder from American River (Calif.) College can go the distance and has great size and speed.
“He’s a natural with the ball in his hand. There’s a lot more to running back than just running the football, but that’s his strong suit,” Whittingham said. “It’s been very obvious that he’s got a great feel for the zone play and cut back off the zone. All the things that you need to do in the run game that we have here he seems to do very naturally.”
EXTRA POINTS: On Saturday, Whittingham said that if the Utes had to play tomorrow that sophomore J.J. Dielman would be the starting left tackle. He noted that left guard Jeremiah Poutasi, last year’s starter at left tackle, and junior Andrew Albers are other possibilities. ... Whittingham explained that this week’s scrimmage was scheduled for Friday afternoon to avoid conflict with the LDS Church's general conference and Utah football’s annual junior day. ... The scrimmage (Rice-Eccles Stadium, 4-6 p.m.) will feature a minimum of 80 plays unless any health issues develop at positions during the week. ... Utah resumes camp Tuesday on the practice field from 3-5 p.m.
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