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Matt Piper and Kyle Goon
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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Utah football notes: Wilson’s hand injury was more than just a gash

The obvious comparison to make this fall camp is between Travis Wilson and Oklahoma transfer Kendal Thompson, but perhaps lost in that hubbub is the difference between 2013 Travis Wilson and 2014 Travis Wilson.

Wilson received praise again Wednesday for taking care of the ball and for continuing to show improvement, and after practice The Tribune caught up with quarterbacks coach Aaron Roderick to find out just how much Wilson was affected by an injured hand he sustained against Stanford.

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In short: a lot.

"It was bad," Roderick said. "His hand was in bad shape. He was such a tough kid, he wouldn’t make excuses, and he wanted to play, but, you know, there were some times where he was out there and he could barely grip the ball."

That’s probably already known, but Roderick said, without going into specifics, that the gash fans could see on TV was just one of "multiple issues" going on with his throwing hand. He injured it against Stanford, Roderick said, and then made it worse against Arizona. In the week leading up to USC, he wasn’t able to practice much.

Wilson had 1,640 yards, 13 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in his first six games (through Utah’s win over the No. 5 Cardinal). In three games after that, he passed for 187 yards, three touchdowns and six interceptions.

"Looking back on it now, maybe, who knows if we did a disservice to him or to ourselves," Roderick said. "It’s easy to second-guess that. But there’s no question about his toughness. He never made one excuse. Never said anything about it."

***

Happy headgear » Asked Tuesday about the unique helmet Wilson is wearing at fall camp, head coach Kyle Whittingham said he didn’t know what the "smiley face" was for. He guessed it might be some kind of vent, but promised the full report Wednesday.

He delivered. Wilson is wearing a brand-new SpeedFlex helmet from Riddell that features an impact plate which is designed to do a better job of absorbing contact, particularly in the front.

Wilson is not wearing it because they are especially worried about his health after an intracranial artery condition kept him off-limits from contact during the off-season. Rather, Whittingham said, they only received one helmet, and it fit Wilson.

If Wilson likes it, you may see more players beginning to wear them.

***

Life-saving headgear » After practice, Whittingham stopped by University Hospital to deliver a helmet that will be used for a live-saving procedure to stop internal bleeding.

It is common to use football helmets for the insertion of Blakemore tubes, explained Dr. Estelle Harris. Doctors attach the tubes, which need to be kept in place with the right amount of pressure, to the facemask on the helmet.

The helmet the intensive care unit had been using had fallen into disrepair, and so they turned to the Utes for a new one.

It’s a last-ditch procedure, and when Whittingham told them that the helmet’s former owner was transfer running back Lucky Radley, Harris perked up.

"Did you say his name was Lucky?"

***

Carries for Clay? » As of now, Kaelin Clay is the No. 1 kick returner, the No. 1 punt returner, and in the mix to be Utah’s starting slot receiver.

Tuesday, Whittingham said that Clay may also receiver some carries in the backfield, a la Shaky Smithson. Fitting, since Clay trains with Smithson in Long Beach.

For more on Clay, read Kyle Goon’s profile of the one-to-play-one speedster.

***

Highlights » Always hard to tell what a running back would’ve done if people were actually trying to, you know, bring him down, but Devontae Booker brought some football sound effects to the no-tackle practice, particularly on one run up the middle when he collided violent with a succession of Utah defenders. And an honorary nod goes to golden-maned senior punter Chris Van Orden, who made a nice one-handed catch on a Wilson throwaway to the right sideline.

Standouts » Redshirt freshmen running backs Troy McCormick and Dre’Vian Young both had longish runs, showing off the speed and cutting ability that give Utah coaches a change-of-pace option from Bubba Poole and Devontae Booker. Whittingham said after practice that McCormick can’t be counted out of the battle for the starting spot, which may go all the way up until the start of the season.

Position spotlight » Whittingham said solid work from his linebackers caught his eye Wednesday. The Utes have played mostly nickel during 11 vs. 11 work, with only two linebacks on the field at a time, and with Gionni Paul and Jacoby Hale both missing fall camp due to injury, there is a clear No. 1 and No. 2 group. No. 1, not surprisingly, are Jared Norris and Jason Whittingham. No. 2 are Uaea Masina and Marcus Sanders-Williams, who continues to transition smoothly after being moved over from running back in late spring.

Quote of the day » On the team’s new uniforms, which have arrived just in time for player head shots, Whittingham said: "To be hoenst with you, I pay no attention to uniforms and all that stuff. I just, I just don’t care. I know the players do, and that’s important ... but I don’t even think I saw a picture of them."

— Matthew Piper

mpiper@sltrib.com

Twitter: @matthew_piper



Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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