Utah football: Utes are eager to pick up the pace offensively
Tom Smart, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — When it comes to the tempo of Utah’s offense, head coach Kyle Whittingham said the sense of urgency to get the ball snapped is not nearly what it needs to be.
“It’s almost panic time for that because we’re down to three practices and we still don’t grasp exactly what we’re after in that regard,” he explained after Saturday’s scrimmage at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
The most glaring issue on offense, Whittingham added, will continually be hammered throughout the balance of spring ball and all the way through fall camp. While it’s “so far, so good” for some things, tempo isn’t one of them.
“It’s still a work in progress,” Whittingham said. “We’re not playing nearly fast enough.”
Whittingham describes the current situation as more of a “no-huddle” rather than an “up-tempo” offense.
New offensive coordinator Dave Christensen has similar concerns.
“Our tempo has not come close to what it needs to be and so we’ve got to get that point across,” he said. “Some of that comes from learning and some of that comes from coaching. We’ve got to coach better. We’ve got to be more demanding that we line up and snap the football.”
The players understand what needs to be done.
“Obviously the offense is different than last year, but the one thing is we’ve just got to make sure we push the tempo more and get the ball snapped a little bit faster,” said quarterback Travis Wilson.
The junior, who has maintained the top spot on the depth chart throughout camp while coming back from an intracranial artery injury, enters the final three sessions of spring ball with definite goals in mind.
“Just to make sure than I’m doing whatever I can to help this team and help get myself better,” Wilson said. “I know I had a few shaky games last year, so that’s just something that I’m trying to correct this spring and make sure I’m smarter with the football.”
Wilson, who at this point has only been cleared for non-contact drills, insists that all is well this spring.
“I feel perfect. My body feels healthy,” he said. “I’ve definitely got to gain a couple of more pounds, but other than that I feel really good.”
Although the 6-foot-7 Wilson is significantly lighter than last year’s playing weight of 240, he’s happy with the progress being made in the weight room.
Whittingham said it’s very apparent when Wilson gets out of the pocket that he’s a lot faster and quicker than last season. The coach also likes Wilson’s decision-making in camp, noting that he’s putting the ball in some good spots.
“Obviously Travis has played fairly well for us,” Christensen said. “We’ll continue to still have competition, but I think that he has certainly done a nice job so far.”
Wilson, meanwhile, is pleased with how things are going under Christensen.
“I’m just trying to learn as much as I can from him and he’s doing a great job of teaching me and being a good coach,” Wilson said. “I’m happy to have him here.”
Christensen is still in the midst of evaluating what he calls a “good competition” at quarterback. On a depth chart released last week, redshirt freshman Conner Manning had moved ahead of junior Adam Schulz for the backup spot behind Wilson.
“It’s close. It’s not like he’s head and shoulders above Adam Schulz and it’s not like he’s really far behind Travis because there’s give and take,” Whittingham said. “Some days he is the best quarterback. Some days Schulz has been the best quarterback. Most days Travis has been the best quarterback.”
Whittingham noted that everything is tracked and charted in the competition. On Saturday, Manning and Schulz were even made live for eight to 12 plays in the scrimmage.
Manning, though, has impressed the coaching staff with his pocket presence. Like Wilson, he’s watched a lot of film and said he’s always trying to improve.
“I feel really comfortable with these four weeks that we’ve been through and the sky’s the limit right now for us offensively,” Manning said.
As far as moving up to No. 2 on the depth chart, Manning insists it doesn’t alter his approach.
“It didn’t really change my mindset. My mindset has been one thing and that’s been getting better and doing whatever I can to help this team,” Manning said. “So whether I was No. 1, No. 2, No. 3, my mindset didn’t change.”
Manning added that the quarterback group, which also includes No. 4 Brandon Cox, is supportive of one another and has the back of whoever is getting the reps.
Oklahoma transfer Kendal Thompson joins the mix when preseason camp opens in August. So, too, does Louisiana high school star Donovan Isom.
“Kendal Thompson. We’ve got find out about him right away in fall camp and he’s going to get a bunch of reps right away to show what he can do because we’ve got a good look at the guys we’ve got in the program now,” Whittingham said. “But with Kendal and even Donovan Isom, our freshman, we’ve got to a feel for what their capabilities are — because very soon and very quickly into fall camp we’ve got to decide who is going to get the reps and so finding out about Kendal will be job one in the fall.”
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