The Utes are concerned enough about injuries at linebacker that Jared Norris — although perfectly healthy — won’t get any more live reps this spring.
It’s simple: They can’t risk losing Norris in addition to Jacoby Hale, Jason Whittingham and Gionni Paul.
But coaches believe Whittingham will be fine by fall and they suspect, or at least hope, that Paul will also. After the junior team captain had surgery on his broken foot Thursday, the team estimated Paul would recover in 5 to 6 months. Head coach Kyle Whittingham and defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake both said after Saturday’s scrimmage that the estimate might be conservative.
"Knowing Gionni Paul, my guess is — I’m not a doctor — but I think it’s going to be a little bit accelerated," Whittingham said.
Sitake said the injury isn’t nearly as bad as the foot injury that cost sophomore defensive tackle Stevie Tu’ikolovatu his 2013 season, or that which plagued former Utes linebacker J.J. Williams. After hopping off the field on Tuesday, Paul was still able to put some weight on his foot.
Utah coaches moved running back Marcus Sanders-Williams to linebacker to compensate for Paul’s absence, and Sanders-Williams started with the No. 1 defense Saturday. As Whittingham quipped to media: "Marcus Sanders-Williams went from fourth-string running back to first-string linebacker in one week."
Sanders-Williams broke up a pass to junior running back Bubba Poole and was in on at least a couple of tackles Saturday. Asked after practice if the move is permanent for him, he said "Most likely, probably. But I still hope to play a little running back, too."
OFFENSIVE HIGHLIGHT » Both of Troy McCormick’s long runs were pretty impressive, with the redshirt freshman running back breaking tackles and hitting an extra gear near the sideline. But a highlight that isn’t reflected on the stat sheet is an Adam Schulz pass to Geoffrey Norwood that the senior sock-hopped half the field into the end zone after his shoe had been ripped off. Alas, it was called back to a holding penalty on sophomore Brian Allen.
DEFENSIVE HIGHLIGHT » Linebacker Uaea Masina displayed off an impressive vertical in batting down a Travis Wilson swing pass to Poole. Not only did he jump high, but in reading the play he displayed the intelligence that the sophomore’s coaches have raved about.
STANDOUTS » McCormick (134 yards, 1 TD), senior wideout Dres Anderson (111 yards, 1 TD), redshirt freshman quarterback Conner Manning (9-12-0 for 116 yards and 3 TDs), sophomore kicker Andy Phillips (59-yard field goal to handspring to backflip), sophomore defensive end Pita Taumoepenu (two sacks), sophomore safety Hipolito Corporan (29-yard fumble return for TD) and sophomore cornerback Reginald Porter (four pass breakups) were the statistical standouts. Also, junior Charles Henderson had one of the day’s best hits on senior tight end Westlee Tonga.
KEEP AN EYE ON » Senior offensive lineman Marc Pouvave. A junior college transfer from Southwestern College, Pouvave participated in all 12 games for the Utes last season, but Saturday’s scrimmage was his first 11 on 11 work this spring due to injury. "We’ve got to find out as much about him as we can in a short period of time," Whittingham said. He hopes to settle on five starters on the offensive line early in the fall so that the group can gel in the remaining practices.
QUOTE OF THE DAY » Whittingham, on proposed changes to "Utah Man," Take Two: "I hope it doesn’t change. What would it be, ‘Utah Person?’ I don’t know what the issue is. There’s gotta be better ways to spend your time, though, than worrying about the fight song."
— Matthew Piper
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