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Utah Utes football: Even with Chase Hansen's injury, Utes no longer thin at quarterback

Published: Friday, July 31 2015 4:11 p.m. MDT

Adam Schulz (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News) Adam Schulz (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Things are much better now.

A precarious quarterback situation at Utah has been stabilized by the addition of depth — in both personnel and experience.

The Utes have gone from one extreme to the other in that regard. A near famine at the position has evolved into a feast, of sorts.

Utah opened preseason camp with five quarterbacks in the mix — veterans Jordan Wynn and Jon Hays; newcomers Chase Hansen and Travis Wilson; plus developing talent Adam Schulz.

"There's definitely depth there and you can't ask for more than that," said senior receiver DeVonte Christopher. "We feel like we have 4-5 quarterbacks who we are confident in. That's definitely good because the more ability you have in your backups the better your team will be."

Utah quarterback Jordan Wynn can smile knowing he has capable backups behind him.   (Tom Smart, Deseret News) Utah quarterback Jordan Wynn can smile knowing he has capable backups behind him. (Tom Smart, Deseret News)

Quarterback depth, acknowledged head coach Kyle Whittingham, represents this year's biggest roster transformation for the Utes — even with Hansen sidelined for the season with shoulder surgery.

Things were quite different last season.

A precarious situation became dire midway through the fourth game when Wynn was sidelined for the year with a shoulder injury.

Quarterbacking duties shifted to Hays, whose only previous experience in major college football was a handful of plays in a blowout win at BYU two weeks earlier.

The junior was a relative newcomer to the program, signing with the Utes after spring ball when Div. II Nebraska-Omaha dropped the sport.

 (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News, Tom Smart, Deseret News) (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News, Tom Smart, Deseret News)

Even so, Utah didn't have any other quarterbacks who had even thrown more than one pass in a game since high school. The options included sophomore Griff Robles, as well as freshmen Tyler Shreve and Schulz.

"We weren't real deep," Whittingham said. "That happens on occasion."

Whittingham explained that recruiting is very circumstantial in a lot of ways — especially at quarterback, where a variety of situations often come into play.

As such, things change from season to season.

Just ask the Utes.

"We were pretty thin last year," Wynn said. "If Jon would have went down who knows what would have happened? But he did a good job and battled and stayed healthy."

Hays was continually reminded about the latter.

"That was stressed to me," he said. "But at the same time you don't want to go out and play soft. I tried to walk the line with that."

It all worked out. Hays gained valuable experience with nine starts, guiding the Utes to six wins including a victory in the Sun Bowl during his tenure as the starter.

"I think I got better as the season went on," Hays said. "But I think where I really improved was just sitting back in spring ball, soaking everything up and taking a step back."

With Wynn back at full health, Utah now has two quarterbacks with starting experience.

Experience isn't the only upgrade for the Utes. The addition of highly touted high school stars Wilson (California) and Hansen (Utah) have enhanced the program's talent level and profile at quarterback.

"(The Pac-12) is all about quarterback play and the top offenses in the league have the best quarterbacks," said Utah offensive coordinator Brian Johnson, who is also the position coach. "We've got to make sure that we get the necessary amount of production out of the position."

The quarterbacks are working hard to make that happen.

"I'm really pleased with the effort and the way they come out to work each and every day," Johnson said. "Those guys are very talented and I'm excited to come out here and work with them."

Wynn noted that it's an extremely competitive situation. They're constantly competing to see who can make the most completions, as well as things like who can throw the ball the farthest and the quickest.

"It's fun. We come out and do that every day," Wynn said. "… We're all working together."

The competitive mindset, he added, is necessary to succeed.

"You've got to be a killer," Wynn said. "In your mind, you've got to be a killer and go out and battle every day and win."

Wynn tops the depth chart and is determined to keep it that way. The others, he continued, are constantly pushing him to get better.

"There's never a day where I come out and think that I've arrived," Wynn said.

And he's not alone.

Wilson also has the mentality of being the starter.

"We are going to have to compete every day and I definitely, at the end of the day, want to start and play on the team," he said. "So I'm just going to come out every day and compete as well as I can."

Wilson insists there's no animosity associated with the competition. In fact, he considers it fun and a great experience.

"We're totally supportive of each other," he said. "We're always just saying 'good throw' and everything to each other and we're never bringing each other down or anything."

Hays is also appreciative of the constant competition, adding that it's definitely a good situation.

"I think we all make each other better. We have great chemistry between the five of us," Hays said. "Right now in camp we're pushing each other, making each other better every day."

Hansen, who plans to serve an LDS Church mission at season's end, is also enjoying his association with the others. He's also finding it educational.

"It's awesome. We've got a lot of really good quarterbacks that are really throwing the ball really well right now," Hansen said. "I've personally learned a lot from these guys, especially guys like Jordan and Jon that have been around here. It's just cool to be around this many good quarterbacks."

Schulz, a strong-armed walk-on from Michigan who redshirted last season, added that the group has grown close — studying together on and off the field. They know when it's work time, he continued, and when it's time to joke around.

On the serious side, however, Schulz is finding it educational as well.

"I get to learn from the smartest guy I think I'll ever know, Jordan," Schulz said. "I get to work with Jon. He's got a great work ethic and he sets a good example for everybody else."

Competing with the younger guys is always good, too.

"For me personally I'm just trying to get better. I'm trying to be the best quarterback I can be and if that's learning for as long as it takes then that's what it's going to take," Schulz said. "I'm just going to push everybody else. When I get my chance I've got to make everything that I've done worth it."

UTAH CAMP REPORT

Day 6: The Utes completed the first double day with a morning practice at Rice-Eccles Stadium and an evening session at Ute Field.

Standouts: After the second session, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said that the defense had a good day. Standouts include cornerback Mo Lee, safety Eric Rowe, defensive tackle Star Lotulelei and defensive end Nate Fakahafua. On offense, running back John White continues to draw praise.

Injuries: Offensive tackle Miles Mason (high ankle sprain) will likely be sidelined for another 10 days . . . Linebacker Reshawn Hooker (concussion) is day-to-day . . . Wide receiver Anthony Denham (tendonitis) returned to practice.

Overheard: "Training camp is a grind. That's what it was meant to be and that's our approach ." — Whittingham.

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