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Ute football: Kelvin York is back to bolster Ute rushing attack

Published: Monday, July 6 2015 6:30 a.m. MDT

Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham during University of Utah football practice on April 16 in Salt Lake City. (Deseret News) Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham during University of Utah football practice on April 16 in Salt Lake City. (Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s top running back, Kelvin York, has been out for most of spring practice with an aggravating “turf toe” injury. He returned to action for Saturday’s scrimmage, and it was probably not a minute too soon, considering the way the other Ute running backs have been gaining on him.

York, who was the second-leading rusher a year ago behind John White, is still penciled in as No. 1 on the depth chart, according to coach Kyle Whittingham, but he said the gap is closing.

Besides York, a senior, senior Karl Williams, junior Lucky Radley and sophomore James (Bubba) Poole have all played well this spring.

“It’s a tight battle — all four of those backs are doing good things,’’ said Whittingham. “Lucky Radley has had an outstanding spring. Karl Williams has been outstanding as has Bubba Poole. We have four guys that are neck and neck, and we add to that mix three guys this fall, so it gets even more interesting.’’

Dennis Erickson, co-offensive coordinator, shares a laugh with a player during University of Utah football practice on April 16 in Salt Lake City. (Deseret News) Dennis Erickson, co-offensive coordinator, shares a laugh with a player during University of Utah football practice on April 16 in Salt Lake City. (Deseret News)

Another back to consider is sophomore Jerel Oliver, who has been out with an injury this spring.

York, who gained 273 yards and scored three touchdowns last year, saw his first real action in Saturday’s scrimmage when he rushed seven times for 35 yards.

It’s been frustrating for him sitting out with turf toe, an injury to the ligaments around the big toe joint, often caused by jamming the big toe or repeatedly pushing off the big toe.

“I’m better now,’’ York said. “I’m cutting better, running harder, so I’m happy about that. I’m going to step up to the challenge.’’

Dennis Erickson, the U.'s new co-offensive coordinator, is also the running backs coach, and he’s happy with what he’s seen from his group this spring.

A.J. Merlino gets instruction from coach Jay Hill during University of Utah football practice on April 16 in Salt Lake City. (Deseret News) A.J. Merlino gets instruction from coach Jay Hill during University of Utah football practice on April 16 in Salt Lake City. (Deseret News)

“They’ve been a pleasant surprise,’’ Erickson said. “It’s good to get Kelvin back. He’s getting better all the time now that he’s healthy, a lot better. We’ve got four guys who’ve had good springs and they’ve all had their days.’’

Erickson describes York and Williams as “real physical backs,’’ and said Radley and Poole “can hit the home run and have the movement with their feet.’’

Both Whittingham and Erickson said the competition will be decided in the fall, but both agree having several backs to choose from is a great thing for the Utes’ offense.

UTE NOTES: Despite temperatures in the low 40s at Tuesday’s practice, Whittingham was happy with his team’s play. “It was a really good practice after a not-so-good scrimmage — it was a positive day,’’ he said. … Whittingham said offensive line play was the bright spot Tuesday along with the “accuracy of the quarterbacks.’’ … The Utes have been relatively injury-free so far this spring. “We’ve been fortunate, knock on wood, we’ve been able to keep most guys healthy. We've had guys miss here and there due to bumps and bruises, but for the most part it’s been good,’’ said Whittingham.

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