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U.'s Johnson will redshirt; Ratliff, Grady fight for job

Published: Monday, Aug. 21 2006 4:34 p.m. MDT

Defensively, the Utes were led by Martail Burnett and Brice McCain. Burnett had a sack and blocked a punt, while McCain had an interception and a pass break-up.

Kicker Louie Sakoda had a good day as well. He made six PATs and connected on three field-goal attempts.

"We got a lot of work done, Whittingham said.

The biggest task, however, may have been narrowing the quarterback field.

Johnson surprised many with his mobility less than 10 months following surgery that normally takes 12-18 months of recovery.

"Brian's overall well being and health was the No. 1 factor in making that decision," Ludwig said. "He's done an awesome job. He is going to be a great quarterback. He came back to camp in great shape. His arm is stronger, and he's faster."

Johnson's surgically repaired knee wasn't completely cooperative, though. It puffed up and became sore on occasion despite no contact and limited reps.

Ludwig noted it was a tough, difficult decision to redshirt Johnson. The health of his knee, obviously, was the overriding factor.

"Our concern was if he broke down early in the season and the knee didn't hold up," Ludwig said. "We'd have all the No. 1 reps invested in that young man and the next guy coming in wouldn't be developed and wouldn't be able to carry the load."

A group decision, thus, was made — allowing Johnson another year to heal the knee completely.

"Everyone is one the same page. Everyone's in the same camp," Whittingham said. "It's best for Brian. It's best for the football team. It's a win-win situation."

Even so, Johnson admits it is tough to look at the big picture and Utah's depth at quarterback.

"I'm a competitor. I want to be out there and play," he said. "I feel like I would be the best person to go out there and play for us."

His knee, however, dictated a different course of action. Johnson acknowledged it's less than 100 percent and proved to be the X-factor.

"Maybe it could have been well enough to play. But you've got three great quarterbacks, so why risk it? I've got a long future ahead of me to play football," said the 19-year-old with 10 career starts. "I want to come out here and be 100 percent healthy. If I'm not able to do that, there's no reason to go out there."

Johnson respects the way Whittingham was up front and honest about the entire situation. The plan all along was to redshirt Johnson if he wasn't completely healthy.

"He was a little bit emotional about it, and I can definitely see why. He's a very competitive guy. I'd be the same way," said Ratliff, who backed up Johnson last season. "It's hard to just give up something that you think you deserve and you've earned. He has two more years after this, and he's going to be great."

Ratliff praised Johnson for working hard to come back and doing well in camp, despite occasional trouble with his knee.

"I think it's smart of him to redshirt. It'll make his career better and it'll make it longer," Ratliff said. "It gives me and Tommy a shot to battle it out for the starting spot, but he's going to be great the next two years."

With the three-man race reduced to a pair, Ratliff and Grady will see an increase in reps. As soon as one of them pulls away in practice, Ludwig said a decision on a starter will be made.

Besides the candidates, the entire offense is eager for an announcement.

"You don't want to leave that thing hanging," Ludwig said. "You don't want to leave it in limbo. The guys want to know who is taking us into battle."


E-mail: dirk@desnews.com

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