Quantcast

Utah Utes football: 5 things to look for in fall camp

Published: Wednesday, July 1 2015 3:47 p.m. MDT

Norm Chow and Kyle Whittingham pose for a portrait in the Smith Athletics Center at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City on Monday, July 1, 2011.  (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News) Norm Chow and Kyle Whittingham pose for a portrait in the Smith Athletics Center at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City on Monday, July 1, 2011. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — There's plenty of excitement up on the hill as Utah enters its first season in the Pac-12. The original Bowl Championship Series busters are no longer outsiders. They're now part of an automatic qualifying conference — and a lucrative one at that.

The impending fame and fortune, however, won't provide solutions to everything.

There's still fall camp, where the Utes are looking for answers to several questions. Players report Wednesday night and take the field on Thursday morning.

Here's five situations to watch as Utah prepares for its inaugural season in Pac-12:

1. Will Jordan Wynn return to form?

Although Wynn has been cleared medically and is 100 percent healthy, the only quarterback in the program with major college experience will make a "gradual return" to his duties as the starter. The junior, who had surgery on his throwing arm in December, will be on a throw count early in camp. He'll be limited to 100 passes each day, and none in the second session of two-a-days.

Norm Chow the University of Utah's new Offensive Coordinator talks to some of the players during the first practice of spring Tuesday, March 8, 2011 in the indoor practice facility. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News) Norm Chow the University of Utah's new Offensive Coordinator talks to some of the players during the first practice of spring Tuesday, March 8, 2011 in the indoor practice facility. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News)

It's all for precautionary reasons, explained Utah coach Kyle Whittingham, to avoid potential problems down the road.

"We don't want to give him too much of a load early on," he said.

Wynn missed the Las Vegas Bowl and was unable to make throws in spring ball following the Dec. 13 surgery. He has since been cleared to do so and spent the summer adding distance incrementally.

"Keeping Jordan healthy is definitely going to be a priority for us," Whittingham said.

The Utes are 11-4 with Wynn as the starter. His backups this season are true freshman Tyler Shreve and junior college transfer Jon Hays.

2. What about Norm Chow and the revamped offense?

Norm Chow and Kyle Whittingham pose for a portrait in the Smith Athletics Center at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City on Monday, July 1, 2011.  (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News) Norm Chow and Kyle Whittingham pose for a portrait in the Smith Athletics Center at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City on Monday, July 1, 2011. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

The hiring of Chow brought alterations to the offense during spring ball. The Utes have added more of a downhill run element to their scheme and will put the quarterback under center more often.

A lot of other things, however, will carry over from the spread attack of recent years.

"It's not a complete wholesale departure," Whittingham said.

When pressed for an apt description, he called it a "revamping" and "not a complete overhaul."

It'll complement Wynn's skill sets and put him in a system similar to the one he ran in high school. More two-back sets and the greater use of tight ends and fullbacks are expected.

The changes accompany Chow's return to his alma mater. The veteran play-caller has an extensive background as an offensive coordinator, having done so for BYU, North Carolina State, USC, UCLA and the NFL's Tennessee Titans.

Cornerback Conroy Black (9), shown here trying to make a tackle on McKay Jacobson of BYU, is being counted on to help lead the way for Utah's depleted defensive secondary. (Brian Nicholson, Deseret News) Cornerback Conroy Black (9), shown here trying to make a tackle on McKay Jacobson of BYU, is being counted on to help lead the way for Utah's depleted defensive secondary. (Brian Nicholson, Deseret News)

"You'd be hard pressed to find a guy with more experience and a better track record than what Coach Chow has," Whittingham said.

3. Who will be the new starters in the secondary?

Graduation losses, Brandon Burton's early departure to the NFL, and Brian Blechen's move to linebacker have left the Utes without any returning starters at cornerback or safety.

That doesn't mean, however, that the cupboard is bare — far from it, as a matter of fact.

"A lot of bodies, a lot of candidates," Whittingham said. "But it hasn't been sorted out yet."

Senior Conroy Black and junior Ryan Lacy solidified themselves as the base corners in spring ball, but Whittingham notes that there's still an active competition for the sub spots. Utah often employs schemes with three or four corners. Sophomore Wykie Freeman is in the mix, along with junior Reggie Topps and sophomore Mike Honeycutt.

First-year Utah offensive coordinator Norm Chow is revamping the Utes' offense, which will be spearheaded by quarterback Jordan Wynn, left.    (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News) First-year Utah offensive coordinator Norm Chow is revamping the Utes' offense, which will be spearheaded by quarterback Jordan Wynn, left. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News)

At safety, Whittingham said sophomore Michael Walker did some really good things in spring ball. He's the projected starter at strong safety. Junior college All-American Keith McGill is expected to be the free safety.

Other competitors for starting spots include senior Greg Bird, as well as freshmen Joseph Bryant and Eric Rowe. Whittingham added that freshman Tyron Morris-Edwards was a pleasant surprise in spring ball. Redshirt freshmen Damian Payne and Terrell Reese also have potential.

Getting the secondary settled, Whittingham emphasized, is "the priority on defense."

4. Who will top the depth chart at running back?

Replacing co-starters Matt Asiata and Eddie Wide as Utah's primary ball carriers is the priority on offense.

The issue wasn't settled in spring ball, as candidates Harvey Langi, John White and Thretton Palamo enter fall camp as "tri-leaders" for the top spot. A spirited competition is expected.

Utah Utes quarterback Jordan Wynn (3) looks to pass as Utah and BYU play at Rice Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City.  Saturday, Nov. 27, 2010.  (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News) Utah Utes quarterback Jordan Wynn (3) looks to pass as Utah and BYU play at Rice Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City. Saturday, Nov. 27, 2010. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News)

Whittingham said the positive thing was that the coaches came out of spring feeling good about the situation. Each of the players have taken a different path. Langi joins the Utes after a spectacular career at Bingham High School, and White was a record-setting junior college star. Palamo is the wildcard. He's considered one of the best rugby players in the nation.

Although Whittingham declined to establish a timetable to sort things out on the depth chart, he acknowledged there's probably not enough carries for three running backs.

Even so, Whittingham is grateful to have depth at the position.

Another player to watch is redshirt freshman Lucky Radley.

5. Are the Utes equipped to play in a BCS conference?

21 Harvey Langi runs during a Red/White Game at Rice Eccles Stadium  on Saturday, April 16, 2011. (Laura Seitz, Deseret News) 21 Harvey Langi runs during a Red/White Game at Rice Eccles Stadium on Saturday, April 16, 2011. (Laura Seitz, Deseret News)

Moving from the Mountain West Conference to the Pac-12 is a big jump, a Grand Canyon kind of leap.

Whittingham said only time will tell how the Utes are able to handle the challenging schedule week in and week out.

Do they have the depth and talent to do it?

"We feel like we've recruited well the last several years. It's a work in progress. It's ongoing," Whittingham said. "You've got to continue to upgrade everything you are doing."

The bar, he continued, has been raised.

After opening the season Sept. 1 at home against Montana State, the Utes embark upon a schedule featuring non-league games against BYU and Pittsburgh, as well as conference clashes with Arizona, Arizona State, California, Colorado, Oregon State, UCLA, USC, Washington and Washington State.

 (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News, Brian Nicholson, Deseret News) (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News, Brian Nicholson, Deseret News)

"I've got to believe it's the most difficult schedule in Utah football history, at least recent history," Whittingham said. "It's a challenge."

e-mail: dirk@desnews.com

Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company