Quarterback may be a key position at Utah once again.
In recent years, Utah hasn't necessarily needed to lean on its QB to get W's. The running game and their defense have been its primary strengths. But now there's a new offensive coordinator in town with a whole new philosophy, and that should have a pass-happy offense right at the center of it.
While Utah may not complete that sort of shift in one season, this is certainly the main position to watch heading into the 2017 season. Here's a breakdown of Utah's quarterbacks:
Projected depth chart
Starter: Troy Williams
Key backups: Tyler Huntley, Cooper Bateman
What the national media is saying
Ben Kercheval of CBSSports.com placed Williams in the "Christian Hackenberg Tier." The subscript of this tier is, "Jury's still out, could go either way."
Bill Bender of Sporting News lists Williams as an honorable mention.
Williams is No. 42 in Athlon's Sports' ranking of FBS quarterbacks.
Williams' first full year as a starter certainly had its ups and downs. The Washington transfer had a great game against Arizona State in Tempe, where he threw four touchdown passes and almost 300 yards. On the other hand, he completed just four passes total against Oregon State. The regular season finale against Colorado didn't go so well either as had two picks and completed just 32.5 percent of his passing attempts.
Williams has to learn a whole new offense from new offensive coordinator Troy Taylor. Utah has depended more on a bruising rushing attack and a stifling defense to win in recent years. In contrast, Taylor's last job was running the high-octane passing offense at Eastern Washington. That means that big changes are coming to Salt Lake.
The biggest being the focus on the quarterback and the passing game.
Over the past few seasons, and with several offensive coordinators, the quarterback position hasn't been the key to Utah's success. With Taylor's new offense, the quarterback is now the focal point. That means there's a lot more riding on Williams' shoulders this season. Whether he rises to the occasion or wilts under pressure remains to be seen. It's a bold and risky move bringing in Taylor, but it could be what the Utes need to claim a division title.
But hold everything. Williams might be getting some competition from his own backups so nothing is set in stone as far as the starter.
Alabama transfer Bateman adds some zest into the QB competition. He saw some limited action in five games last season for the Crimson Tide, including a touchdown pass against Mississippi State. He had a solid spring camp and is pushing for a higher place on the depth chart. Head coach Kyle Whittingham even made some comments on Bateman's progress:
"I’m a Cooper Bateman fan. I think he’s a great kid. He’s a mature kid. He’s got a great attitude. I can’t say enough good things about him," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham told Deseret News reporter Dirk Facer. "It’s going to be interesting this fall. I mean, he has got a shot. We’ll see what happens in fall camp."
In that same story, Bateman called himself a "third-string quarterback right now," but he's a man to watch when fall camp starts. That said, he has to get past last year's backup before he can think about that starting position.8 comments on this story
Huntley was the Utes' only other quarterback to take the field last season other than Williams, and there's not enough data to make any conclusions. He made just seven passing attempts all year. The former four-star quarterback was recruited as a dual-threat signal caller. He showed what he can do with his feet during Utah's second scrimmage, rushing for a 7-yard touchdown.
Would Taylor use Huntley in situations where a dual-threat quarterback would come handy? Only time will tell.
Bottom line: The Utes will need to lean more on the quarterback position under Taylor's new offense, and it will be interesting to watch who wins that battle in the fall. While Williams has to remain the favorite, he can't afford to take anything for granted.
Lafe Peavler is a sports strategist for the Deseret News and KSL.com. Follow him on Twitter @LafePeavler.