SALT LAKE CITY — Spring has sprung, but the Utah Utes are still working the ground. After seven practices, they've got a running back battle on their hands. None of the candidates to replace graduated co-starters Matt Asiata and Eddie Wide, however, have played a single down of major college football.
Even so, there's plenty of optimism about highly touted freshman Harvey Langi, junior college transfer John White and rugby star Thretton Palamo.
"It's boiled down to those three guys getting all the reps," confirmed Utah coach Kyle Whittingham.
And as was the case last season, only two will likely see significant playing time.
"There's probably not enough touches for a three-man rotation," Whittingham said. "You may need three backs throughout the course of a season if guys get banged up, but as long as everybody is healthy it's more of a two-man thing."
The battle, though, isn't likely to be settled this spring.
"They're all brand new to the program, all three of them, and they're still learning every day," Whittingham said. "This competition will definitely spill into the fall camp."
Friday's scrimmage at Rice-Eccles Stadium, however, could start the development of a pecking order. All three currently share the top spot on the depth chart.
"I'd say it's still pretty even. There really is no order at this point and time," Whittingham said while looking ahead to the scrimmage. "Hopefully at that point and time we'll be able to start to see some separation."
Running backs coach Dave Schramm noted that there's still a lot of time for things to sort out and plenty of room for improvement at everything.
"The good thing about it is they're great. They work their tails off," Schramm said. "It's almost too much. To their detriment they're trying so hard right now. But that's normal. That's normal in the process."
The trio, he added, comes to work every day and have shown great effort.
"It should be interesting to watch all three of these guys on Friday and see how they perform," Whittingham said.
MATTHEWS MOVED: The running back field of contenders was reduced from four to three this week when junior Luke Matthews was moved to fullback.
"We looked at Luke for the first four or five practices at running back. He did some good things there," Whittingham said. "We're going to use him as a slash guy. He's going to spend some time as a wideout. He'll also spend some time in the backfield in certain sets."
Matthews won't, however, have fullback responsibilities as a lead blocker out of the backfield. Whittingham noted that he'll be more of hybrid and a third receiver.
CHOW TIME: If Norm Chow wasn't available, Whittingham said he wouldn't have brought in a new offensive coordinator.
"I wasn't bound and determined to make a move," Whittingham explained. "But any time you have a chance to better yourself, you've got to do it and I felt it was a chance to better ourselves."
EXTRA POINTS: Friday's scrimmage will consist of approximately 80 plays and is open to the public. It's scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. ... Whittingham said quarterbacks Griff Robles and Tyler Shreve will each get reps with the ones and twos in the scrimmage. ... Wide receiver DeVonte Christopher's sore hamstring will likely keep him out for the remainder of spring ball.
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