Utah's fourth season in the Pac-12 begins on Aug. 28, which is still 190 days (or six months, nine days) away. It's obviously way too early to talk about how Utah football will do this fall. Spring camp is still a little more than two weeks out.

That won't stop us from talking about it anyway.

There's so many questions headed into 2014. Who will start at quarterback? How can the Utes adapt after losing a lot of NFL-level talent? How will the offense respond with a new offensive coordinator?

Here's our way-too-early position-by-position breakdown for the Utah Utes.

Lafe Peavler is a Web sports writer for the Deseret News. Follow him on Twitter @LafePeavler.

Offensive overview

The Utes have a lot of figuring out to do on this side of the ball before the season begins. They've been snakebit at quarterback for the past two seasons. They also need to find a leader at running back, shore up the offensive line and find more wide receivers and/or tight ends to help take pressure off Dres Anderson.

And to top it all off, Kyle Whittingham has shuffled the offensive staff again. New offensive coordinator and former Wyoming head coach Dave Christensen has his work cut out for him as he tries to put together an offense capable of moving the ball against Pac-12 defenses.


The Utes have been incredibly unlucky at quarterback for the past two seasons, and it's no coincidence that Utah hasn't gone to a bowl game over that same period.

Travis Wilson's season came to an unfortunate end due to a severe head injury, and it's unclear if he'll be able to return this season. That's a pity given that he had some solid games last season, such as his 303 yards passing and two touchdowns against Utah State and 273 yards and two touchdowns vs. arch-rival BYU. While he didn't have a perfect season, Ute fans would love to at least see him healthy enough to play.

Adam Schulz started in Wilson's place, and his performance was less than stellar. He finished the season completing just 75 of his 154 attempts for 1,008 yards, six touchdowns and five interceptions. There's no guarantee that he'll be the starter if Wilson is unable to compete.

That means that redshirt freshmen Connor Manning and Brandon Cox will be able to compete for the starting position. Manning was Shulz' backup, but the Utes didn't want to burn his redshirt unless it was completely necessary. He has a solid arm, but who knows how he'll perform at the FBS level. However, given the last two Heisman Trophy winners were redshirt freshmen, there's hope.

However, there's one more intriguing possibility. True freshman Donovan Isom could also make a push for the starting position.

Clearly, the Utes have a lot to figure out between now and August.

Running back

Utah just hasn't been the same at this position since John White IV graduated. The coaching staff struggled to find consistency or take advantage of hot streaks from some of their running backs.

Bubba Poole has a ton of potential and had some big games last season. He rushed for 117 yards and a touchdown against Oregon State, 96 yards against BYU and 111 yards in the Utes' big upset against Stanford. However, he left the Arizona game with concussion-like symptoms and wasn't the same since that game. The most he rushed for after that game was 54 yards against Oregon. He's an elusive, speedy back who also catch passes from out of the backfield.

The Utes will need Lucky Radley to also step up this season. While he had 111 yards against Weber State, he had only one other game (at Arizona) where he had more than 50 yards rushing. That's particularly true given that Kelvin York's not coming back.

We could see more of sophomore Marcus Sanders-Williams. He played in just one game last season against Weber State. There's also a chance that incoming freshman D.J. Law could push to move up the depth chart.

Wide receiver

Utah took a massive hit at wide receiver when Kenneth Scott went down to an ankle injury in the first week last season. Scott had 32 receptions for 360 yards and three touchdowns in 2012, and his production was expected to rise in 2013. Dres Anderson had his work cut out for him after Scott went down. He put together a solid performance with 1,002 yards and seven touchdowns receiving last season, and six games with 100 or more yards, including 141 yards against arch-rival BYU. The Utes will be glad to have Scott back on the field along with Anderson this season as they'll form a formidable WR duo.

The Utes will look to JUCO transfer Kaelin Clay to contribute right away. He had 995 yards and 16 touchdowns last season playing for Mt. San Antonio College. Given that Sean Fitzgerald and Anthony Denham have both graduated, Clay should have plenty of opportunity to make an impact this season.

Tight end

The Utes will have a hard time replacing Jake Murphy, particularly with the way he played his final three games after returning from injury. Murphy decided to forgo his senior season and will be performing at the NFL Combine.

Westlee Tonga returns after his knee injury against BYU sidelined him for the season. Tonga has limited in-game experience as he has just seven receptions and one touchdown over his career. The Utes will need him to step up in a hurry.

Then, there's sophomore Siale Fakailoatonga. He had just two receptions for 18 yards last season, and the Utes will expect more of him next year.

Offensive line

The offensive line gave up 23 sacks last season, and subsequently Utah fired offensive line coach Dan Finn and hired Jim Harding in his place. Harding followed Dave Christensen from Wyoming, and his line helped the Cowboys to No. 41 in rushing offense last season. This line will have to do a better job of protecting the quarterback than what's happened over the last two seasons.

Utah loses two players from last year's offensive line: center Vyncent Jones and left guard Jeremiah Tofaeono. Redshirt sophomore Hiva Lutui will likely get the nod to replace Jones at center. He was a U.S. Air Force All-American at Trinity High School in Texas.

The Utes return both starting tackles in juniors Jeremiah Poutasi and Siaosi Aiono. However, given the amount of sacks given up last season, they aren't exactly locks to return as starters. True freshman and early enrollee Jackson Barton could make a push for playing time this spring, and he already has good size at 6-foot-7, 291 pounds. And don't count out Marc Pouvave, who missed the 2012 season with an Achilles injury. He played backup last season, but he could make a case for a starting position in 2014.

With a new coach and given Utah's struggles last season, no starting position is safe. We'll see what kind of adjustments Harding makes this spring.

Defensive outlook

Kyle Whittingham has already proven his salt as a capable defensive coach. Even though the Utes lose a lot of talent to the NFL, there's a lot of young talent in the front seven. Even though the Utes are a little thin at safety, this defense has plenty of potential. While players like Trevor Reilly will be difficult to replace, the defense should be solid coming into 2014.

Defensive line

The Utes have a lot of rebuilding to do on the defensive line. Both of last year's starting defensive tackles, Tenny Palepoi and LT Tuipulotu, are gone. Plus, LB/DE combo Trevor Reilly is also busy preparing to impress NFL scouts. That leaves DE Nate Orchard as Utah's lone returning starter on the defensive line. He's a solid enough player with 49 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, 3.0 sacks and three forced fumbles last season. He'll need to step up to lead the line this season.

It will be no small feat to replace two players who will compete at the NFL Combine, namely Reilly and Palepoi. Still, the Utes have plenty of depth with Sese Ianu and Sam Tevi returning at defensive tackle. Early enrollee Pasoni Tasini could push for a place at the top of the depth chart. Then there's Lowell Lotulelei, the younger brother of NFL DT Star Lotulelei. Sophomore Hunter Dimick will make his case to start at defensive end after he made 29 tackles and 2.0 sacks last season.

While the Utes will be rebuilding, they have plenty of young talent to build upon.


The Utes have a solid starter at middle linebacker in Jason Whittingham. He earned All-Pac-12 honorable mention last season after he made 81 tackles after not recording a stat in Utah's first two games. Ute fans are right to have high hopes for his junior season.

Jacoby Hale had a decent season despite fighting injuries. Despite missing three games, Hale finished with 37 tackles, 10 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks. He'll be an active part of Utah's sack-happy defense next season, no doubt about it.

Jared Norris also returns after he missed the last three games of 2013 due to injury. He had 64 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, 2.0 sacks and two forced fumbles before his injury.


The secondary had its issues last season (No. 109 in passing yards allowed with 267.3 yards per game), and last year's top corner Keith McGill is off impressing NFL scouts leading up to the NFL Combine. So, Utah has plenty of work to do here, but it's not without talent.

Justin Thomas had to start last season at cornerback as a redshirt freshman, and he made 25 tackles, three tackles for loss and defended two passes. He still has some work to do, but we should see some improvement as he moves into his sophomore season.

Davion Orphey also returns with 33 tackles and five passes defended. The JUCO transfer from Santa Ana College will likely start this season. Wykie Freeman will push for more playing time this spring. Travonne Hobbs could also contribute this season right out of high school. While he's a bit undersized at 5-9, Utah's known for making the most of athletes like Murphy.


Veteran safety Eric Rowe returns for his fourth season as a starter at safety with 69 tackles, including 10 against Arizona and nine against both Utah State and Oregon. The Utes hope that JUCO transfer Tevin Carter, who signed last year but wasn't able to qualify academically, is able to compete this season. At Southwest College he made 62 tackles and three interceptions.

The Utes have also moved Brian Blechen from linebacker to safety to help build some depth at this position. Blechen missed the 2013 season as he recovered from knee surgery. Also, Darchon Taggart returns after making two tackles last season, as well as Charles Henderson who made three tackles last season.

An interesting wildcard at this position is incoming true freshman Andre Godfrey. While Godfrey doesn't arrive until fall camp, he could push his way up the depth chart if he's in good shape when he reports.

Special teams

The Utes have a reliable kicker in Andy Phillips. He went 41-for-41 in extra points, 8-of-9 on field goals inside 40 yards and 9-of-11 from 40 or more yards out, including a 51-yarder. While he may not have the strongest leg in college football, he's accurate and able to hit moderately long kicks consistently.

Then, you have first team All-Pac-12 punter Tom Hackett. Hackett led the conference in punt average (43.4 yards/punt) and punts inside the 20 (27).

Utah has some work to do on kick returns. Geoffrey Norwood returns as a solid punt returner, averaging 8.6 yards per return. However, the Utes have some work to do on kickoff returns. Incidentally, head coach Kyle Whittingham has announced that he'll be coaching special teams personally starting this season.