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Utah Utes football: John White frontrunner to carry the running load

Published: Monday, July 6 2015 1:20 a.m. MDT

Junior college transfer John White claimed the No. 1 spot on the depth chart at running back during fall camp and has clung to it ever since. (Tom Smart, Deseret News) Junior college transfer John White claimed the No. 1 spot on the depth chart at running back during fall camp and has clung to it ever since. (Tom Smart, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — When it comes to the skill positions on the Utah football team, the Utes appear to have the talent, but are lacking in experience going into Thursday's season-opener against Montana State.

The main skill position is quarterback and the Utes feel good about starter Jordan Wynn, who has apparently come back strong from his off-season shoulder surgery. Last year, he threw for 2,334 yards and 17 touchdowns, but struggled late in the season with a sore throwing arm.

However, he has looked better in each of the Utes' three scrimmages and is ready to put last year's frustrations behind him.

The biggest concern has been the lack of experience among his backups, but coach Kyle Whittingham said last week that the Utes would be comfortable using JC transfer Jon Hays if the need ever arose. He also said the Utes have brought Wynn along slowly because of last year's injury and that he is doing just fine.

John White IV (Tom Smart, University of Utah Athletics) John White IV (Tom Smart, University of Utah Athletics)

"There's nothing wrong with him, we're just being careful we don't wear him out," Whittingham said.

The most intriguing position for the Utes could be running back, where Eddie Wide and Matt Asiata, who took most of the snaps the past two years, have both graduated. The Utes have four guys to choose from and all four may see significant action. But of the four, only one, Tauni Vakapuna, has any major college experience, and it is very limited.

At the start of fall camp, it was a dead heat among John White, Harvey Langi and Thretton Palamo. Langi was listed at No. 1 for a couple of days before White took over at the top spot, where he has stayed throughout most of camp.

Then Vakapuna seemingly came out of nowhere to take the No. 2 spot on the depth chart after missing spring practice to take care of his ailing mother. He was recently sidelined for a few days with an injury, but is expected to be ready for the opener.

Among the receivers, the Utes return their second-leading pass-catcher in DeVonte Christopher, who caught 39 passes for 660 yards and six touchdowns, but lost Jereme Brooks and Shaky Smithson. Junior Reggie Dunn, perhaps the fastest player on the team, is slated as the No. 1 "Z" receiver and two redshirt freshmen, Dres Anderson and Kenneth Scott, are slated to see a lot of action.

Other receivers who are capable of catching many passes for the Utes this year are four-star JC recruit Anthony Denham, senior Dexter Ransom and sophomores Sean Fitzgerald and Griff McNabb.

Unlike the spread offense of recent years, which often featured four receivers, the Utes will be utilizing the fullback and tight end positions more than ever this year, according to Whittingham.

The fullback position will be manned by three players who saw action last year — Luke Matthews, Dallin Rogers and Shawn Asiata. At tight end, Kendrick Moeai, who caught 11 passes last year, and freshman Jake Murphy, who has been one of the top pass receivers in fall scrimmages, will get most of the reps.

Matthews and Rogers can also play tight end and, in fact, both could play as many as four positions for the Utes this year, including slot receiver.

McNabb, a sophomore from Idaho who has been impressive the past two springs, is set to start the season as the punt returner. Matthews will also help out on the punt returns, as could Charles Henderson, a freshman out of New Orleans.

Dunn and defensive back Ryan Lacy are set to handle kickoff returns, with Anderson and Matthews also available.

Game changer

DeVonte Christopher, wide receiver, came to Utah from Las Vegas is a quarterback, but quickly became valuable to the team as a wide receiver. Last year he led the team in receiving yards (660) and touchdowns (6), while catching 39 passes. He also averaged 24 yards as a kickoff returner as a freshman and, as a former quarterback, is always a threat to throw the ball.

email: sor@desnews.com

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