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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: QB battle to highlight scrimmage; Whittingham takes ice bucket challenge (videos)

Well, we went and did it. We asked football coaches about position battles, and we got what we deserved:

Every position is a battle. The battle never stops. And so on.

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But make no mistake, Saturday’s scrimmage will go a long way toward determining who is where on the two-deep against Idaho State, and there’s one particular position battle that has the head coach’s full attention.

"Quarterback," Kyle Whittingham said after Friday’s morning session. "Huge."

No spot is solidified right now among Utah’s passers, from No. 1 on down. For the top spot, Kendal Thompson and Travis Wilson continue to duke it out in alternating series at practice, and Brandon Cox, Conner Manning, Adam Schulz and Donovan Isom try to make their handful of reps count in the tussle for No. 3.

In Scrimmage No. 1, Whittingham flunked them all, as the top four went 15-for-44.

"They have not had real bad days other than the scrimmage," Whittingham said. "... They’re good players. I didn’t mean to give the impression coming out of the last scrimmage that we are not good players at that position, but we just didn’t perform like we expected."

Whittingham said the Utes will run a few less plays Saturday — maybe 80 — than they did Tuesday — roughly 96. Proven offensive players like Dres Anderson, Kenneth Scott and Westlee Tonga will sit out. But the stakes for Wilson and Thompson are almost as high as they will be on gamedays.

Said offensive coordinator Dave Christensen: "It’ll be exciting."

***

(Feeling) great Scott » Speaking of Scott, he has been borderline uncoverable for Utah cornerbacks during the media-observed periods this week, and he says the ankle that cost him his 2013 season is at "110 percent."

"Last time I felt soreness was in spring ball," Scott said. Recently, "the trainer asked me which leg I had surgery on, and I forgot."

Scott had 501 yards as a freshman and sophomore, and was expected to be one of Wilson’s top targets before breaking his ankle in the first series against Utah State. Last year, his loss was sorely felt, but team sources say Utes have better depth at wideout now with the continued improvement of Delshawn McClellan and Dominique Hatfield and the addition of junior college transfers Tim Patrick and Kaelin Clay.

Asked if this is the most talented group he’s been a part of, Scott said it’s close. During his sophomore year, he and Anderson combined with Luke Matthews and DeVonte Christopher to form a deep group.

"But I think if we keep pushing, we’ll be better than what they were."

***

Magic number? » Some Utah fans complained last year that alternating Bubba Poole, Lucky Radley and Kelvin York prevented any one of the three from getting into a rhythm, but they combined for 1,354 yards on 326 carries.

Practically every day, Utah coaches have been asked if Poole, Troy McCormick or Devontae Booker have done anything to distinguish themselves from the others.

Booker is the total package, with size, speed and power.

McCormick is smaller but has a tendency to break 60-yard touchdowns, like he did in live work Thursday, according to Whittingham.

And Poole continues to play mistake-free.

So don’t be surprised if the answer to "Which of these guys will play on Saturdays?" is "All of them."

"Running back by committee is not a bad thing, particularly if you’ve got three good ones," Whittingham said Friday.

Christensen added that they feel good about the position, whoever starts, and that for the most part they’ve protected the football well.

Booker fumbled last Friday and in Tuesday’s scrimmage, but Whittingham said he’s worked to address the problem before it becomes more of a concern.

"He had a tendency to let it swing away from his body — but high and tight, three points of pressure, the way we teach it, he’s starting to do that consistently."

***

In this corner ... » Onlookers at Friday’s practice had front-row seats to some pigskin pugilism when staff donned boxing gloves and squared off.

The reason for the gloves: to help corners and safeties (earlier in practice) learn that with a more stringent take expected by officials this year on pass interference, they can’t afford to hang on to their mark by his jersey.

"The way it’s been interpreted and what they’re looking for has changed, and so we’re too grabby," Whittingham said. "You put boxing gloves on, it forces them to move their feet. They can’t grab, obviously, with a boxing glove on. That’s the idea, the premise, is to get them to move their feet, cover with their feet, and not be so grabby."

***

Ice baths cometh » Whittingham accepted Rod Zundel’s challenge to help fight Lou Gehrig’s Disease on Friday, enduring an icy deluge along with Anderson, Scott and Andy Phillips, and then issuing a challenge to former Utes in the NFL Eric Weddle, Paul Kruger, Tony Bergstrom and actress Reese Witherspoon.

"Eric, Paul, Tony and Reese, you have 24 hours," he said before Wilson drenched him. He admitted that Witherspoon might be a longshot, explaining "I like her movies, how about that? We’ll leave it at that."

Whittingham encouraged viewers and fans to donate to the fight againt ALS at alsa.org.

And he didn’t mind the chill, he said. He might even make it a ritual.

Scott didn’t feel the same way:

"That was probably the coldest I’ve ever been."

***

Highlight » Freshman Kenric Young left fellow frosh Monte Seabrook in his dust and Wilson found him over the top for an all-too-easy half-field touchdown.

Standout » Aforementioned highlight aside, Seabrook gets the nod here for two interceptions. At least one came on a Wilson throw. The origin of the other is unknown, but "he just played the ball really well," Whittingham said. "He’s got a lot of natural ability. He still makes freshman mistakes and he looks back for the ball way too often and does the things that first-year defensive backs typically do. But what he does have, he’s got good size. He’s 5’11, nearly 6 feet tall, about 185 pounds, and is exceptionally quick and fast. He’s got a chance to develop into a good corner."

Position spotlight » The picture on the right side of the offensive line is getting clearer, Whittingham said. Right now, it appears that J.J. Dielman will start at right tackle and Isaac Asiata will play right guard. Backing up Dielman are true freshman Jackson Barton and recent defense-to-offense switcher Sam Tevi, and backing up Asiata is Salesi Uhatafe.

Quote of the day » Asked about the format of Saturday’s scrimmage, Whittingham: "Very similar to the first one, although you weren’t there, were you?" Later, on Andre Lewis: "He’s had some days where he’s really shined, but today he was a little bit hobbled. Shined? Shone? Is it shone or shined? You’re the journalist." What a bully.

— 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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