Utah football: Utes finally have depth at quarterback
One of the first things Norm Chow noticed when he joined Utah's staff as an offensive coordinator in 2011 was the depth at Utah's quarterback position, or lack of it.
"Quarterbacks. You've got to have quarterbacks," he would often say. "You can't expect to make it through a season in the Pac-12 with just one quarterback."
How prophetic his words turned out to be. Much of Utah's struggles in recent seasons have been pegged to the injuries at the quarterback position. Not since 2008 when Brian Johnson led the Utes to an undefeated season have the Utes had a quarterback start and finish a season.
The Utes felt they had a good successor in Jordan Wynn, but there was an obvious drop in talent behind him, whether it was due to youth, inexperience or simply physical limitations.
But just like the offensive line, what was once a weakness now appears to be a strength for the Utes.
Sophomore Travis Wilson is expected to continue his role as starter. At 6-foot-6 and 240 pounds, Wilson can better handle the physicality of the Pac-12 than Wynn could. But if the unthinkable happens and Wilson goes out with an injury, the Utes are no longer looking at the sideline wondering which quarterback turned defensive back could still remember how to throw.
This year, the Utes feel they have more depth at the quarterback position than any other time during coach Kyle Whittingham's reign.
Sophomore Adam Schulz is one of the most improved players on the team, freshman Brandon Cox is an athletic player who possesses good leadership abilities, and newcomers Micah Thomas and Conner Manning have had good moments in camp.
"We feel like we have a very good group," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "The one negative is they are all just sophomores and freshmen."
Of course, the positive in that is the same: If the quarterbacks can live up to their billing, the Utes could be set at the position for several seasons to come.
Wilson has done nothing to ruffle his status. If he remains healthy, it's unlikely any of the other quarterbacks will get much time since Johnson prefers to leave the offense in the hands of one guy rather than mix in others with special packages as the Utes have done in the past.
"We're heading in a direction of getting guys who can give you both," Johnson said of the ability to pass and be fleet of foot. "It's a position of rhythm, too, and you want to get going in one with the rest of the offense."
But what if Wilson loses his edge in the coming weeks or continues Utah's unfortunate trend of quarterback injuries? Who replaces him?
His would-be successors all have their positives and negatives and are in a heated competition, Whittingham said.
Schultz, 6-foot-1, 205-pounds, has been on a consistent rise since last year. He impressed coaches with his arm strength in the spring and was one of the leaders during offseason workouts.
His hard work has paid off in smarter decisions in fall camp.
"I'm not forcing the ball like I was last year," he said. "Last year, I'd go with my first read and try to force it in there. This year, I'm going to the first, second and checking it down or even going outside with it."
Pushing him for snaps is Cox, the 6-foot-2, 200-pound freshman who enrolled in time to participate in spring ball. In addition to a good arm and quick feet, Cox has a lot of intangibles that can't be taught, such as natural leadership on the field, Utah co-offensive coordinator Dennis Erickson said.
His one drawback is a foot injury that ended his spring session early and continues to hamper him now, Erickson said.
"We'll see how that comes along," Erickson said. "Other than that he is getting better and better."
As for Thomas and Manning, Manning's accuracy has earned him the most praise. He also has a maturity on the field the coaches like.
However, both are still freshmen and, rightfully, look lost at times, in the words of Erickson.
For now, their inexperience doesn't concern the Utes. For now, the depth ahead of them gives the Utes a cushion. For now.
Who was hot • Junior corner Wykie Freeman had a good day, as did all the young corners.
Who was sidelined • Corners Davion Orphey and Keith McGill left practice early with injuries.
What is next • The Utes have their first two-a-day on Saturday. Coach Kyle Whittingham said two-a-days show which players have the necessary toughness. Utah quarterback depth chart
Travis Wilson • 6-foot-6, 240 pounds, So. Returner went 3-4 as a starter in 2012.
Adam Schulz • 6-foot-1, 205 pounds, So. Former walk-on is an accurate, strong passer.
Brandon Cox • 6-foot-2, 200 pounds, Fr. Has the advantage of having been with the team for spring ball.
Conner Manning • 6-foot-1, 205 pounds, Fr. Threw for 9,449 career passing yards for El Toro H.S. in California.
Micah Thomas • 6-foot, 178 pounds, Fr. Texas product is good with his arm and his feet.