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(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah running back John White during the fourth quarter as the University of Utah faces Georgia Tech, college football at the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas, Saturday, December 31, 2011.
Analysis:Utes’ offense has playmakers, but can they make the plays?
First Published Aug 20 2012 03:30 pm • Last Updated Nov 30 2012 11:32 pm

By Lya Wodraska

The Salt Lake Tribune

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At a glance

Lessons learned at Utes camp

What we learned » Utah’s group of tight ends could be the program’s best yet. Look for Dallin Rogers, David Rolf and Jake Murphy to all have strong seasons.

What we don’t know » The soreness in Jordan Wynn’s shoulder raises questions about his ability to play through an entire season. He threw a lot of balls in camp, which made it sore, but we don’t know how it will respond to hits.

What to look out for » Utah’s offensive line remains the big question mark on the team. The linebackers are an untried group as well.

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We don’t know if an untested offensive line can keep Utah’s quarterbacks safe from Pac-12 defenses. We don’t know if quarterback Jordan Wynn’s shoulder has the durability to last a season. We don’t know which backup running backs will play the most.

But one thing we do know as the Utes head into their regular season practice mode is Utah’s offense has more playmakers this year than it has in any recent season.

If the Utes can’t improve their paltry 25 points a game average from a year ago, which ranked just ninth in the Pac-12, then new offensive coordinator Brian Johnson will have a lot of explaining to do.

Johnson, the former quarterbacks’ coach who earned a bump in salary from $120,000 to $225,000 when he was promoted to coordinator, is under pressure to prove he was worth the hiring risk.

His first order of business: livening what was a stagnant offense in 2011. Part of Utah’s offensive problem was the season-ending injury to Wynn, which forced the Utes to rely on running back John White. But Utah coach Kyle Whittingham didn’t really like Norm Chow’s play-calling either, believing the Utes needed more versatility despite Wynn’s absence.

At least fans can take some comfort in knowing they weren’t the only ones going slightly buggy watching White run time after time or Hays throwing those little 3-and-5 yard dinky passes. The game plan was effective enough to get the Utes to the Sun Bowl, but the product wasn’t exactly known as one of the more captivating and dangerous offenses in the league.

That should change in 2012.

This year, not only is Wynn healthier, but the Utes have an improved version of Jon Hays backing up Wynn as well as a rising freshman in Travis Wilson.


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Wilson has a good arm and is a very good runner, too, giving the Utes a new option to their quarterbacking plans.

Johnson has said time and again that his offense won’t look drastically different from what the Utes were doing last year before Wynn was hurt. However, the way in which he plans to use the players should produce different results.

Johnson’s favorite line through fall camp was that he intends to use players to the best of their abilities.

What sounds like typical coach-speak does represent what the Utes want to do in 2012. Luckily, they have the players to be versatile based on what was on display in fall camp.

The quarterbacks practiced under center and in the shotgun formation, giving Wynn a flexibility he said he likes. The biggest difference, though, is the Utes plan to make use of a deep receiving group by going downfield more.

Doing so will open new territory for the Utes, who played a more conservative game with Hays at quarterback.

Most importantly, Wynn said he can handle the long ball this year as opposed to last year when he struggled.

"I can make those throws this year," Wynn said. "Whether it is the way B.J. is calling the plays or the way I am throwing, we should be a lot more explosive downfield this year."

Helping the Utes in that cause is a solid group of receivers. Last year DeVonte Christopher was the only consistent big-play guy.

This year, the Utes should have more options with sophomore Dres Anderson looking more consistent in camp, sophomore Kenneth Scott looking strong and junior Sean Fitzgerald finally healthy.

The biggest contributors in the passing game, though, could be the tight ends. Dallin Rogers, Jake Murphy, David Rolf, Westlee Tonga and Kendrick Moeai all have talent to be big contributors.

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