SALT LAKE CITY — By far the best news of the offseason for Utah football fans came on Jan. 7, when star running back Zack Moss announced that he was forgoing the NFL draft and returning to Utah for his senior season.
Moss, who rushed for 1,096 yards and 11 touchdowns with an average of 6.1 yards per rush, played in nine games before suffering a season-ending leg injury before the Oregon game. Moss, who was receiving attention from NFL scouts in the 2018 season, chose to come back for his senior year. In a tweet, Moss said, “Time to cement my name. Let’s do the damn thing.” With that tweet and that decision, Moss skyrocketed expectations for the Utes' 2019 season.
“I was happy,” said running backs coach Kiel McDonald of Moss’s decision. “I thought it was a good decision for him for what he wants to do, for what he wants to accomplish. I think we need to continue to put in some more work. He was on pace to do some very special things here at Utah, but I still look at his game, and we need some more things to polish up. I’m happy that he made that decision and I think it’s going to pay major dividends for him down the line.”
What does a healthy Moss bring to the Utah ground game? A lot, according to McDonald.
“He’s a five-tool running back. He can run for power, he can run for speed, he can make you miss, he can catch the ball, he can pass-pro — there’s nothing that he can’t do on a football field. He’s just got to continue to develop consistency and just continue to work on his demeanor. He’s one-of-a-kind, he’s a very special football player,” McDonald said.
While a lot of things are still up in the air during spring ball, one thing is definitive — Moss will be the feature back for the Utes. While Moss is not participating in spring practice as he continues to recover from injury, the race is on to see who will fill out the depth chart behind Moss.
“We’ve got a lot of competition in the backfield. Individually, we just have to keep working, learn from each other, and just keep grinding,” said junior running back Devonta’e Henry-Cole.
With reports that Armand Shyne — currently slated on the spring depth chart to be the No. 2 back behind Moss — plans to transfer, some on the depth chart could see their roles increase. Besides Moss, Utah has a stable of running backs on its roster.
Headlining the group is Henry-Cole, who missed all of 2018 with a wrist injury.
“Sitting out just made me hungry … I was just learning, watching film, getting better for when I come back. Sitting out, it helped me,” Henry-Cole said.
Henry-Cole says that he likes new offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig’s system, as it is similar to the system used at his high school, St. Thomas Aquinas.
“My high school, we ran the same offense, so I’m used to it. I love it, nothing major, nothing hard to learn,” Henry-Cole said.
Henry-Cole says that Ludwig’s offense is more about power running compared to former offensive coordinator Troy Taylor’s, which was more spread offense. After an offseason on the sidelines, Henry-Cole says his game will be better than ever.
“I learned a lot, I feel like I’m a different back from last time I played. When I played two years ago, I was new. It was my first time playing college football, so everything’s fast-paced, everyone’s huge, I’m a short guy. Now, I’m hungry and I just want everyone to know that I’m ready to play,” Henry-Cole said.
McDonald has been impressed with Henry-Cole in practice. The junior ran for 279 yards and two touchdowns in 2017.
“He’s a competitor, he’s a tough little cookie. He knows exactly what he wants to be and he’s fighting every day to become that person. I expect him to really help us in the fall, I expect him to be explosive, I expect him to come in and really be successful in this offense."
Sophomore TJ Green played in 12 games in 2018, and stepped in when Moss was hurt. His career game came when he rushed for 45 yards against BYU last season.
“It was a good experience. Got in, got my nose dirty. A lot of people don’t get to do that their redshirt freshman year and I got the opportunity to. Zack went down and I had to pick up the slack. It was a good experience and I’m glad I got it. I’ve got a lot of confidence coming into this year,” Green said.20 comments on this story
Sophomore Devin Brumfield got playing time in 2018, starting in the Pac-12 championship game. Four-star running back Jordan Wilmore and three-star running back Micah Bernard will be on the hill in the fall. All told, Utah’s running back depth is among the best that it’s ever been.
“Jordan Wilmore coming in, the return of DHC (Devonta’e Henry-Cole), Devin Brumfield, who’s doing a nice job, Micah Bernard is also a freshman that we’re really high on that’s coming, so we’ll be just fine,” Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said.