SALT LAKE CITY — Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said there are a number of things the defending Pac-12 South champions want to accomplish this spring. Many of the objectives center around moving forward without a small but talented senior class that led the Utes to their first appearance in the conference championship game.
Whittingham noted that they made quite an impact. Graduation losses include special teams stars Matt Gay and Mitch Wishnowsky; starting offensive linemen Jordan Agasiva, Jackson Barton and Lo Falemaka; linebackers Chase Hansen and Cody Barton; as well as safeties Corrion Ballard and Marquise Blair.
When spring ball kicks off Monday, the search for replacements gains traction. Although answers may not come until fall camp when everyone arrives, the process gets underway. In the meantime, Whittingham has an overriding point of emphasis for spring ball. It’s been a constant throughout his lengthy tenure as head coach. Whittingham and his staff are determined to make “every player in the program better fundamentally and technique-wise.”
All outdoor practices and scrimmages are open to the public, beginning Monday from 3-5 p.m. at the fields behind the Eccles Football Center. The Utes are also scheduled to practice Tuesday and Thursday before shutting things down for nearly two weeks because of spring break. The remainder of spring ball resumes March 19 and concludes with the annual Red-White Game April 13 at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
Several returnees will not participate in spring ball while recovering from injuries. The players include defensive back Stone Azarcon, linebacker Francis Bernard, wide receiver Britain Covey, linebacker Quinn Fabrizio, tight end Bapa Falemaka, tight end Connor Haller, defensive end Blake Kuithe, running back Zack Moss, wide receiver Samson Nacua, wide receiver Dominique Thompson and defensive tackle Pita Tonga.
Who will fill the gaps on the offensive line?
Getting things solidified on the offensive line is a priority as the Utes move forward without three starters from last season. As such, Whittingham noted there are a lot of unknowns and things won’t be completely settled until fall when everyone arrives. In the meantime, though, he said they’ve got to get a good start on it. The spring depth chart features senior Darrin Paulo at left tackle, sophomore Nick Ford at left guard, junior Orlando Umana at center, senior Paul Toala at right guard, and sophomore Mo Unutoa at right tackle. Others on the two-deep include Simi Moala, Johnny Maea, Kyle Lanterman, Paul Maile and Braeden E. Daniels.
Recent signees Sataoa Laumea, Bamidele Olaseni and Marist Talavou are scheduled to join the mix this fall.
How will new coaches impact this year's Utes?
There have been three coaching changes since last spring. Associate head coach and defensive assistant Gary Andersen left before Utah’s appearance in the Holiday Bowl to become Utah State’s boss for the second time. He took linebackers coach Justin Ena with him. Former Ute Sione Po’uha came aboard to help with the defensive line (replacing Andersen) before the trip to San Diego and longtime Weber State assistant Colton Swan was later hired to coach the linebackers. Offensive coordinator Troy Taylor became the new head coach at Sacramento State. Whittingham wound up bringing Andy Ludwig, most recently at Vanderbilt, back to Utah for a second tenure to call the plays.
Who will step up at linebacker?
Talk about some big shoes to fill. Hansen and Barton gave Utah a powerful one-two punch at linebacker last season. Fortunately for the Utes, there’s Manny Bowen. The graduate transfer from Penn State brings 35 games of experience, including 21 starts, with him from the Nittany Lions. He made 134 tackles, including 12.5 behind the line of scrimmage.
Whittingham said Bowen is ready to go and “we’re excited to see what he can do.” Bowen has just one year of eligibility remaining and Whittingham noted the importance of getting him up to speed with Utah’s scheme.
With Bernard out this spring, sophomore Devin Lloyd tops the other spot on the depth chart. Redshirt freshman Andrew Mata’afa and sophomore Sione Lund are listed as the top reserves.
How will the Utes keep special teams special?
Utah made history last season as the first program to have both Lou Groza (top kicker) and Ray Guy (top punter) award winners on its roster at the same time. Gay and Wishnowsky proved to be extremely valuable weapons for the Utes. Now, both are gone.
Sophomore Chayden Johnston is slated to be the top kicker and freshman Ben Lennon looks to continue Utah’s successful run of punters from Australia. How these guys handle the roles could be pivotal in Utah’s bid to win the Pac-12 championship next season.
Johnston is also handling kickoff duties and is listed as the backup at punter. Lennon is scheduled to be the holder.
Who will fill big shoes in the secondary?
Graduation has taken a toll here with Utah losing productive safeties in Ballard and Blair. To offset the losses, senior Julian Blackmon has been moved over from cornerback. The former Heart of Dallas Bowl MVP is joined on the spring depth chart by fellow senior Terrell Burgess. Blackmon is set to be the free safety, while Burgess mans the strong safety spot. Junior Vonte Davis and sophomore R.J. Hubert are on the two-deep as reserves at safety.
Senior Tareke Lewis is projected to replace Blackmon as the starter at right corner, opposite junior Jaylon Johnson. Junior Javelin Guidry headlines the cast at nickel.
The secondary was an obvious strength last season and could be again if the Utes can solidify the safety spots.
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Utah spring football schedule
All outdoor practices and scrimmages are open to the public.5 comments on this story
- Monday, March 4, 3 p.m. — Eccles Practice Fields
- Tuesday, March 5, 3 p.m. — Eccles Practice Fields
- Thursday, March 7, 3 p.m. — Eccles Practice Fields
- Tuesday, March 19, 3 p.m. — Eccles Practice Fields
- Thursday, March 21, 3 p.m. — Eccles Practice Fields
- Saturday, March 23, 3 p.m. —Eccles Practice Fields
- Tuesday, March 26, 3 p.m. — Eccles Practice Fields
- Thursday, March 28, 3 p.m. — Eccles Practice Fields
- Saturday, March 30, 10 a.m. — Rice-Eccles Stadium (scrimmage)
- Tuesday, April 2, 3 p.m. — Eccles Practice Fields
- Thursday, April 4, 3 p.m. — Eccles Practice Fields
- Friday, April 5, 3 p.m. — Rice-Eccles Stadium (scrimmage)
- Tuesday, April 9, 3 p.m. — Eccles Practice Fields
- Thursday, April 11, 3 p.m. — Eccles Practice Fields
- Saturday, April 13, 11 a.m. — Rice-Eccles Stadium (Red-White game)