At just 5-foot-9, freshman corner Justin Thomas isn’t the most intimidating defender on the field, but the Orange, Texas, native has been good enough in spring practice to get noticed and make the Utes feel better about their corner position.
Thomas, who couldn’t play football his senior year in high school because he was too old according to Texas rules, is making the best of his opportunities this spring now that he is finally on the field.
Thomas redshirted for the Utes last year, but is becoming one of the leading candidates for a starting role as the Utes search for replacements for departed corners, Reggie Topps, Moe Lee and Ryan Lacy.
Thomas has moved ahead of junior college transfer Davion Orphey on the depth chart.
“We’re very pleased with him,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said of Thomas. “Both he and the other freshman, (Reginald) Porter, are doing a nice job. He has a lot of talent and speed and it is just a matter of him getting comfortable.”
Thomas is encouraged by his progress, but has been in the program long enough to stay humble.
“Everything is temporary,” he said. “Everyone here is talented and you have to keep working on technique every day. Whether you are out of high school or JC it doesn’t matter, you have to keep working.”
Return spot open: The Utes are searching for a replacement for returner Reggie Dunn, who had five kickoff returns of 100 yards in his career, including four last year.
Junior Dres Anderson and sophomore Charles Henderson are slotted into the spot now, although Whittingham said the role likely won’t be decided until the fall.
Whittingham admitted the Utes have been spoiled a bit by great returners such as Dunn and Shaky Smithson.
“We probably won’t know who will be doing it until a week out,” Whittingham said of the 2013 season. “Every once in a while you get a guy like Reggie who is phenomenal. We hope someone can emerge this year and bring what Reggie brought.”
While Travis Wilson is firmly planted as Utah’s starting quarterback, backups Adam Schulz and Brandon Cox are putting pressure on Wilson because of their improvement.
Schulz has quickly picked up the no huddle offense and continues to demonstrate a strong arm while Cox is winning approval with his athleticism and accurate throwing.
“Brandon has a very high football IQ for a guy straight out of high school,” Utah co-offensive coordinator Brian Johnson said. “One of the best things he can do is extend the play and make things happen.”
The Utes scrimmage from 4-6 p.m. on Friday at Rice-Eccles Stadium. The Utes were encouraged after going through what amounted to an unofficial scrimmage a week ago, but still need to clean up the defensive assignments and work on tempo, Whittingham said.
The Utes plan to get in 90 to 100 plays.
“We have to take better care of the football offensively,” he said. “We had a lot of dropped balls and things like that week ago and we have to get that cleaned up.”