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Matt Piper and Kyle Goon cover University of Utah sports teams for The Salt Lake Tribune. Matt Piper is on twitter at @matthew_piper, Kyle Goon is on twitter at @kylegoon

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Whittingham reviews Utah's season, looks ahead to the future

Wrapping up a story on Utah's football season for Sunday's paper and thought I'd share a few tidbits.

In talking to coach Kyle Whittingham this week, he continues to insist the Utes are a better team than they were a year ago with the Utes being much more competitive against the top teams in the league.

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"We just didn't capitalize on all the opportunities given," he said.

The hand injuries to quarterback Travis Wilson, a lack of interceptions by the secondary and "hot and cold" production at running back, as Whittingham put it, all contributed to Utah's struggles.

So what can be expected of the team in 2014? A lot depends on the quarterback situation. If Wilson can play again, he'll resume his role as starter. If he can't, spring ball is going to be extremely competitive with Adam Schulz, Conner Manning and Brandon Cox all battling for the starting role.

Everyone assumes Manning would be the favorite since he finished the season as the No. 2 guy behind Schulz, but Whittingham said he really liked the way Cox has developed too.

If Manning is the guy, Utah will have to change its offense, again, to fit his style, although the Utes are sticking with the spread offense, Whittingham said.

"You always have to modify to play to a player's strength," Whittingham said. "You can't ask a guy to do something they aren't physically capable of doing."

Personnel-wise, the Utes feel they can reload the defensive line as they always have with freshman Hunter Dimick and junior Sese Ianu showing plenty of potential.

The linebackers should be extremely good with the Utes liking the way freshman Uaea Masina developed and with starters Jared Norris, Jason Whittingham and Jacoby Hale all returning along with V.J. Fehoko. The Utes will also be adding Gionni Paul to the mix, the transfer from Miami who will contend for a starting role.

The linebackers are predicted to be good enough that the Utes plan to move Brian Blechen, who redshirted this year, back to safety, Whittingham said.

Doing so would also allow the Utes to move Eric Rowe to corner, a more natural position for him.

Also helping the secondary could be Tevin Carter, the junior college transfer who failed to get his academics in order to join the Utes this year. The Utes are hopeful he will join the team for 2014.

Offensively, the Utes have to add more speed at receiver through recruiting. Utah should be set at tight end with Jake Murphy and Westlee Tonga returning while freshman Siale Fakailoatonga showed a lot of promise in Whittingham's estimation.

The running back position will be interesting. Utah returns Bubba Poole and Lucky Radley, but speedy Troy McCormick, who redshirted this year, will also get a look during spring ball. Harvey Langi, the former Bingham star who had a disappointing season in 2011, rushing 13 times for 70 yards, is expected to join the Utes in June after he returns from a mission.

As for his staff, Whittingham didn't rule out any changes.

"I'm still evaluating everything and we'll do what we need to do to make the program better," he said.

In the past Whittingham has talked about how staff consistency contributes to consistency on the field. That he isn't preaching that now means it is probably a good hunch there is going to be some fallout somewhere.

The Utes might have improved in 2013 in Whittingham's estimation, but it obviously wasn't enough for him or anyone else to be satisfied.

Lya Wodraska


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