Problem? What problem?
As far as Kyle Whittingham is concerned, Utah's running back situation is nothing to worry about.
Having Darrell Mack and Matt Asiata competing for the top spot is a good thing.
"We don't consider it a problem. We consider it a luxury to have those two guys back there battling it out," Whittingham said. "There's a good chance you're going to see both of them in the backfield a good percentage of the time."
There's a lot of reps to go around, he insists, while ranking the backs as 1 and 1-A at the beginning of camp.
"The running back position is a very punishing position. You take a lot of hits. It's difficult to go through an entire season with just one back," said Whittingham, who compared Mack and Asiata to Utah's successful duo of Marty Johnson and Quinton Ganther in 2004. "If we can get that 1-2 combination going that we've had in the past, that will be a positive for us."
Mack, a senior who rushed for 1,204 yards last season (the third-best total in Ute history), and Asiata, a former junior college All-American who broke his leg in the 2007 season-opener, headline Utah's list of position battles this fall.
"Those are two competitive guys that want the ball in their hands. And that's a win for all of us," said offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig. "Two good hard-running guys: A proven player in Darrell Mack and a lot of promise in Matt Asiata. Ray Stowers and Eddie Wide are good players as well. We've got a good arsenal there to draw from."
Choosing a lead back, however, won't be easy. Mack and Asiata are expected to contend for the job throughout camp.
"Those guys are very capable very talented guys obviously," said quarterback Brian Johnson. "We're fortunate to have both."
Johnson noted that Mack is proven and that the team leaned on him heavily last season. Asiata, he added, is a talented back as well.
"We're both great football players. We're both good at what we do," Mack said. "If I come off the field or he comes off the field, then there's another great guy coming on the field to do his thing."
The role of being No. 1, he admits, is something new.
"I've never gone into camp in this situation before," Mack said while recalling his journey up the depth chart. "It feels good going into camp being the starter, but I feel like I've got to go out there, prove myself and just enjoy it."
Mack, however, isn't setting his sights on Asiata.
"I don't really think about all that. I just go out there and compete against everybody," he said. "It's not just one person, it's everybody out there. That's how I see it."
Despite last season's success, Mack is confident things can get even better.
"I just want to win every game and just do better than I did last year individually," he explained. "That's pretty much it. Those two goals."
Asiata, meanwhile, is 100 percent healthy and trying not to think too much about his surgically repaired leg.
The same goes for his friendly battle with Mack."I don't think it's really a competition. I think it's a team effort," said Asiata, who is hopeful both players will get in, do their work and win. "I think it'll be a 1-2 punch, but everybody has to work together as a team."
E-mail: [email protected]