SALT LAKE CITY — Everybody has eyes on Ute quarterback Travis Wilson's development, but that's not the only compelling storyline in Utah's football camp this spring.
Wilson's development will be key to the success of Utah's on-the-field product to be sure, so it is with good reason that U. fans want to know how he has progressed. There are, however, several other cogs in the machine that may make or break the Utes in 2013.
Whether it be the linebackers, the offensive line, the receivers or special teams, no one position group is completely absent of intrigue. Some problems the Utes are staring down will be resolved shortly; others may persist all the way to December, especially if injuries come into play.
With all that's been said of Utah's upcoming third year in the Pac-12, here are nine storylines that may have flown under the radar, plus a little treat for Ute football fans at the end:
John "The Wolfman" White IV was in attendance at Saturday's scrimmage, though most of the Utah faithful would rather see him in shoulder pads and a red uniform than in the front row.
There's no question that White has been the most consistent aspect of Utah's offense as the Utes transitioned into the Pac-12. Their power scheme has revolved around him and his ability to move the ball.
So now that White has moved out of the Utah program, who's going to carry the load? The easy answer: No one knows.
Kelvin York hasn't participated much in Utah's spring camp due to a turf toe injury, and he was the only running back who received meaningful carries during the 2012 season, other than White. York appeared in Saturday's scrimmage, running the ball seven times for 35 yards.
Karl Williams got the bulk of the carries last week, averaging 10 yards per carry, but when the Utes suit up for real this fall, who can say which of Utah's running backs will earn the No. 1 spot?
For his part, Adam Schulz, right in the midst of a race for the starting quarterback position — more on him later — was very complimentary of the offensive backfield Saturday.
"We were basically able to run it down their throat," he said.
No other position group was more maligned by injuries and change during the 2012 season than Utah's linebacking corps. Entering the final game of the year against Colorado, the Utes had started eight different players at linebacker.
Brian Blechen, among the most talented defenders on the Utah roster, is expected to make the full-time switch from safety to linebacker this season — shoring up one of the spots. V.J. Fehoko, L.T. Filiaga, Jared Norris, Jacoby Hale and Uaea Masina are currently on the depth chart, competing for playing time, as spring camp enters its final week.
No one will ever live up to Louie Sakoda's legacy. We get that.
Question is, now that his latest successor, Coleman Petersen, has graduated, who's going to take the helm?
Andy Phillips, a 5-foot-11 sophomore from Draper, looked good in Saturday's scrimmage. He went 5-for-6 on the day, with his longest field coming from 42 yards out. Phillips' competition is Jamie Sutcliffe, a 6-foot-2 freshman from Thousand Oaks, Calif., who went 4-for-5 on the day.
The kicking job is expected to be up for grabs this fall, and by then the pool of candidates may expand by a player or two.
Sean Sellwood did well punting for the Utes last year, but like many other positions, the departed senior's spot is wide open.
Sellwood's heir apparent is another underclassman, sophomore Tom Hackett of Melbourne, Australia. Hackett handled roughly 40 percent of the punting duties during his freshman season, specializing in the sky punt.
The son of an Australian rules football player, Hackett has been gunning for a kicking job in American football for years. He has been training this spring to expand his repertoire to include the rugby punt and the standard punt, but even he knows that his job isn't safe.
"The punting game is wide open with Chris Van Orden trying to beat me out of my job," Hackett said Saturday. "Look, it doesn't matter if you're a freshman or a senior, you're job is always there to be taken if you're not careful. You have to stay on top of your game, keep working on the fundamentals and you'll be fine.
"Sean Sellwood taught me everything he knows, and coach (Jay) Hill knows a lot about it too. With that knowledge, I'll be able to make a name for myself, I think."
Prior to last weekend, the story from Utah's camp was the strength and efficiency of the offense. Not so anymore.
Utah's defense was apparently tired of reading about how great the offense was. The Utes' D recorded six pass breakups and two picks inside the red zone. It also did a decent job limiting the run and putting pressure on the quarterback.
"The linebackers in their pass coverage showed improvement," Whittingham said. "They had some timely takeaways on defense. We had some third-and-1, third-and-1/2 situations in the 4-minute drill, and the defense came up big in both of those situations. The quarterback's got to make better decisions."
Inexperience at quarterback and a running back position battle could present challenges, however, when Utah was in the red zone last year opposing defenses might have well had open access to Utah's playbook. The Utes were somewhat one-dimensional in key situations — anticipating that John White was going to get the ball over and over and over again.
The passing game should be much more integral to Utah's offense this year. Wilson's development is progressing, but it's still difficult to tell whether the Utes will be able to improve on a red-zone offense that ranked 90th in the country last season.
The Utes invested tremendous time, effort and snaps into then-freshman QB Wilson last season. Now, perhaps, Utah may have another quarterback race on its hands.
What gives? If this competition carries into the fall, is this a nightmare flashback to 2012 all over again? Who is this kid Adam Schulz that's supposedly challenging the reigning starter?
Schulz, a redshirt sophomore and former walk-on from Wisconsin, has an arm like a cannon. He makes throwing 50 yards look effortless. He has taken a significant number of snaps in the spring and appears to be holding his own in the challenge for the QB job.
On Saturday, Schulz went 7-for-11 with one interception and no touchdowns. Travis Wilson, on the other hand, went 10-for-21 with one touchdown and one interception.
"We made too many mistakes on offense, and that's definitely my fault," Wilson said. "I had that one interception I wish I could have taken back. It's the same stuff we've been running this whole time. We just have to finish strong and make sure we clean up everything."
On the surface, the Utes will say the race for quarterback is wide open. However, it seems unlikely Utah would have invested everything it has in Wilson without expecting him to produce this year. The quarterback race may not be as close as it appears.
If all else fails, the Utes should at least have a competent backup should Wilson go down.
That mantle appears to have fallen on Dres Anderson, who led the team in receptions in 2012 with 36 catches. Whittingham told the media the former son of NFL great Flipper Anderson appears to be separating himself from the pack.
“He’s starting to separate himself from the other receivers and really become a go-to guy,” Whittingham said last week.
Utah's passing game has almost been an afterthought for the last two years. Jordan Wynn's injury problems and Wilson's inexperience forced the Utes into a run-heavy box.
The goal is to change that this year. The up-tempo, hurry-up style Utah is installing will make the passing game much more important than it has been in years past, which will make Anderson and his fellow receivers a more critical cog in the Ute offensive machine. We will see how well that works out.
Reggie Dunn was lightning for the Utes in 2012. He returned four kickoffs to the house (five in his career), single-handedly keeping Utah in some critical contests down the stretch. Dunn continued his exploits at Utah's NFL pro day, where he clocked a 4.26 40-yard dash. Needless to say, his departure will be felt on Utah's special teams this year.
Now that Dunn is done, will Utah be as explosive in the return game? Not likely. Dunn was an elite-level returner and the drop-off to the next level is significant.
As of today, Dres Anderson and Charles Henderson are listed as the return specialists for the Utes, but that doesn't mean much. Holding auditions, which is what the Utes will have to do, for a return specialist in the spring is somewhat pointless. Look for this storyline to pick back up in full force come fall.
Utah's offense has undergone something of a makeover during spring camp. Last year was all about the power game. This year will be all about the hurry-up game.
That is one of the reasons Dennis Erickson was brought into the fold. His volume of coaching experience, combined with Brian Johnson's strengths in a spread, hurry-up offense should play well into that.
So, how's that whole Johnson-Erickson thing working out? On the surface, it appears to be going quite well.
"The relationship is great," Whittingham said of Johnson and Erickson. "The working relationship has been a seamless transition. You'd expect nothing else from Dennis Erickson. He's a consummate professional. He's done it all. He's seen it all, and he knows how to handle any situation."