Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham was reluctant to say who might have separated themselves from their teammates at Friday’s scrimmage. (Story here.)
He wants to look at the tape. He wants to get it right.
But that’s no fun, is it?
With the Jeremiah Poutasi-sized caveat that this is the opinion of one unathletic sports reporter at The Tribune, here are a few guys who may have moved up the board with their play Friday and in recent practices.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Conner Manning
Last year, coaches weighed pulling Manning’s redshirt and said, at least initially, that they felt junior Adam Schulz gave them the best chance to win. Is that still the case? If you judged from Friday’s performances alone, no. Manning not only connected on a higher percentage of his passes — 9-of-16 compared to 1-of-7 — but among his incompletions were near-misses that might have been touchdowns.
Sophomore running back Marcus Sanders-Williams (see notes below) and junior Bubba Poole
It might seem odd to say that Poole’s stock could rise when he’s the No. 1 guy, but some of the shine has come off emerging threats Devontae Booker (junior) and Troy McCormick (redshirt freshman). They haven’t fared poorly, either, but the consistent Poole outdid them Friday with 10 carries for 45 yards and three catches for 31 yards and a touchdown.
Offensive lineman ???
This is quite the puzzle. It’s a safe bet that senior Junior Salt, a nonparticpant this spring, will start at guard in the fall. It’s a safe bet that Jeremiah Poutasi will start SOMEWHERE in the fall (he was at left tackle Friday after playing left guard and right tackle earlier this spring). It seems a less-safe-but-still-fairly-good bet that sophomore Isaac Asiata will be at right tackle or guard and that junior Siaosi Aiono will start at center. So that leaves about 10 guys vying for the fifth position — but very little insight into what that position may be. Your guess is as good as mine.
Senior wide receiver Andre Lewis (see notes below) and sophomore wide receiver Dominique Hatfield
He only had two catches for 23 yards, but the 5-foot-10, 170-pound Hatfield caught a Conner Manning pass and drove his legs forward with defenders in tow like a Radio Flyer. Hatfield has sticky hands and elite speed and has regularly shone among the brightest even with stiff competition from sophomores Brian Allen and Delshawn McClellon.
Sophomore left end Pita Taumoepenu
He’s undersized at 6-foot-1, 225 pounds, but it often seems like Taumoepenu is the one with the unfair advantage. Defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake said after Friday’s scrimmage that Taumoepenu’s pass rush is “explosive,” and it’s just a matter of rounding out his game before making him an every-down player.
Sophomore stud linebacker Uaea Masina
Since Jacoby Hale tore his ACL — with Jason Whittingham also missing time this spring — the former Brighton standout has drawn praise from coaches for making the most of his opportunity to play frequently with the No. 1 defense. At 217, it’s possible he could stand to tack on a few pounds, but he’s got time to do it.
Junior free safety Charles Henderson
All signs point to Brian Blechen, Eric Rowe and Tevin Carter splitting up the safety spots in the fall. Still, Henderson has been the source of some this spring’s hardest hits and he has a nose for the ball that hasn’t gone ignored. Sitake said Henderson was one of his best players Friday.
OFFENSIVE HIGHLIGHT • No. 86 had everybody fumbling around for their rosters Friday. Sophomore tight end Ken Hampel may be buried deep in the tight end rotation, but he had two of the day’s best plays. First the 250-pounder caught a Brandon Cox pass on a post route and rumbled forward, dragging defenders down the field with him, and then he ripped a 50/50 Jason Thompson toss out of the hands of freshman corner Jerry Padilla.
DEFENSIVE HIGHLIGHT • There weren’t a ton. But the nod goes to converted — as of Monday — defensive end Greg Reese for the senior’s recovery of a Cox fumble
STANDOUTS • Wilson and Taumoepenu are the obvious picks, but here are some runners-up: Sophomore cornerback Justin Thomas obliterated McCormick as the latter attempted to catch a swing pass. On offense, 222-pound sophomore running back Marcus Sanders-Williams plowed through defenders and then showcased his 4.43 speed on a 39-yard run.
KEEP AN EYE ON • Sophomore cornerback Hipolito Corporan played safety Friday, a move that Whittingham said was made “due to a lack of healthy bodies” at the position. Whittingham said it’s not necessarily permanent, but he has the size (6’1, 178 pounds) for the position and will spend the final six practices of spring playing centerfield.
SCARY MOMENT • Senior receiver Andre Lewis has been highlighted in a few of these practice reports now, but Friday he was the recipient of a hard, low tackle from senior corner Wykie Freeman that made him writhe in pain as 300 or so people at Rice-Eccles Stadium went silent. Luckily for the Utes, Lewis was eventually able to stand up and walk off the field on his own power.
— Matthew Piper