It's a familiar story: Athlete lingers down the depth chart. Athlete works all summer. Athlete rises up depth chart. Work pays off.
No one's denying that quarterback Brandon Cox did his fair share of work over the summer. The 6-foot-2 California native said repetition and developing relationships with receivers was key to improving.
But it wasn't the summer work as much as his fall camp performance that's elevated Cox now to third on the depth chart and squarely in the discussion as the potential quarterback of Utah's future. He'll be behind Travis Wilson and Kendal Thompson this fall, but asserting himself now bodes well for the years to come.
"He's just played well when he's gotten his opportunities," quarterback coach Aaron Roderick said. "His reps are limited, but he always seems to make the most of them. He finds a way to stand out."
He stands out in two-minute drills. Red zone drills. Whatever.
Roderick and the rest of the coaching staff look for three big things: playmaking, ball security, and leadership. Check, check, check - so far.
Cox's athleticism is no small part of his game, and he can make big gains when he scrambles. But he's working more on picking apart defenses from the pocket.
"Just take my time and read defenses a little more," he said. "Develop as an overall quarterback. I'm still young, I've still got a lot of years left. I want to keep moving forward."
His best tool, Roderick said, is his mind. He's shown a knack for understanding schemes and making reads so far, and he has the added X-factor of being able to react precisely and quickly in limited action.
"Well, there's no glaring weakness in his game," he said. "To do as well as he's done with as few reps is really remarkable. He's a really sharp guy. We just need him to keep improving."
One at a time • Is Idaho State a real threat? While the FCS opponent, which went 3-9 last year, isn't expected to put up a close battle with the Utes on Thursday, Utah players claim they're treating like a big game.
More specifically, The Big Game.
"We're taking every game like it's the Super Bowl," Dres Anderson said after practice on Thursday.
While the Bengals aren't quite ready to take on the Seahawks yet, FCS teams have been a very real threat to FBS teams in recent years. Seven FCS teams claimed wins over teams that were paying them to play in 2013, including Eastern Washington which beat Oregon State 49-45.
Although losing to an FCS team isn't a season killer, it's one of the worst starts a program looking to get back to a bowl can ask for. So sure, it's the Super Bowl, Kyle Whittingham said.
"Absolutely," he agreed when he heard about Anderson's comment. "We want to be 1-0 every Saturday, or every Thursday, whatever the case may be."
Steep learning curve • It has become a pretty common scene in the third week of fall camp to see Anderson, Kenneth Scott or Tim Patrick make acrobatic catches deep or near the sideline. And they're usually doing it over top of one of Utah's young defensive backs.
True freshmen Monte Seabrook, Boobie Hobbs and Casey Hughes have been called on to the unenviable task of taking on the team's top-flight receivers. Sometimes they make mistakes. Sometimes they just get beat on contested balls.
Whittingham said it's bound to happen.
"They'll take their lumps early," he said. "But they've got the tools and the skillset, we think, to succeed eventually."
Hobbs was the only true freshman in the two-deep at the beginning of the week. Seabrook and Hughes may take some additional time to develop. Whittingham also mentioned Tavaris Williams, a freshman running back, has gotten some reps at corner.
Captains up for election • The Utes will have a Friday night meeting to elect leadership, and the results will be announced on Saturday. The team is selecting five captains - two on offense, two on defense, and one on special teams - in addition to a 12-member leadership council.
Whittingham said the special teams captain is new to this year. The election itself is also further back than usual: The Utes had so many newcomers, they wanted to give everyone a chance to meet and greet before voting.
"I've never been involved with a great team that hasn't had great leadership," he said. "If we're going to have a chance to do some things this year, we've got to have leaders stepping up."
Orchard on the shelf • Defensive end Nate Orchard has been a notable absence from first-team reps for the last few days. Whittingham said, "He's fine, he's got a little thing going on. He should be ready to be out here on Monday."
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