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Utah football: With Kendal Thompson watching, Travis Wilson returns

Published March 19, 2014 11:02 am

Utah football • Utes' "incumbent" QB shows rust, but he's ready to compete for his old job.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

It had to feel a little strange to be Travis Wilson on Tuesday.

On one hand, Wilson finally returned to the game he loves after more than three months of feeling perfectly well and being told that football could pose a threat to his life. On the other, well, here's the scenario:

Former receivers coach Aaron Roderick is now your quarterback coach, and barking out the plays is a new offensive coordinator who you only recently met, Dave Christensen.

Standing next to you in street clothes as you make each pass is junior Kendal Thompson, whom Christensen helped persuade to transfer to Utah from Oklahoma. Taking reps with you — albeit not eligible until 2015 — is another guy with Christensen ties in junior Wyoming transfer Jason Thompson.

And worst, you're just not throwing all that well.

But if it was weird, Wilson chose to embrace the positives on the first day of Utah's spring camp.

"Definitely a little bit rusty today, but I'm just happy blessed to be back," the junior told reporters.

Wilson acknowledged that Thompson, junior Adam Schulz, redshirt freshman Conner Manning, and a handful of guys want his job, and that reps are now at a premium, "But I just got to keep on doing my part and make sure I'm doing the best I can."

He showed some zip on his passes and a characteristically tight spiral, but threw behind receivers and seemed to zero in at times.

Luckily for those angling for a Wilson return, few offensive players had a noticeably great day.

Manning was on a roll at one point until getting picked off by sophomore cornerback Reginald Porter on a deep post route. The offense's lone apparent big-play highlight came when Schulz and sophomore burner Delshawn McClellon were able to connect on a deep strike down the left sideline.

Wilson is about 10 pounds lighter than last year's playing weight of 235, thanks to doctor's orders not to lift with the team until a couple of weeks ago. He has felt 100 percent, though, since about two weeks after Utah hosted Arizona State in early November. His only agony has been in waiting and wondering if life after football had already begun.

"Obviously it's been a struggle for him this offseason, not being a part of a lot of the things we were doing, but he's back now," said coach Kyle Whittingham. "He's not cleared 100 percent yet, but hopefully that's the next step."

Whittingham emphasized that Wilson is "the incumbent." He's played in 21 games for the Utes, and while last season's stats were underwhelming (56 percent completions and as many TDs as interceptions, at 16), those numbers are skewed by his struggles after cutting his throwing hand against No. 5 Stanford.

Doctors will test again in July to see if the stretched-out artery in his brain has remained stable — as it has since he suffered a concussion against the Sun Devils and doctors began monitoring it. For all he knows, it has been stable since birth. "If there were any change, then there would be hesitation, but I predict it's not going to change at all," he said.

When preseason camp opens in August, Thompson will be doing more than watching. A 6-foot-1, dual-threat signal caller, Thompson was a preseason favorite to start for the Sooners last year before fracturing his right foot in summer workouts. He was recruited as a prep by Christensen.

"The bottom line is you've got to get the guy in there that moves the ball and gives us the best chance to win," Whittingham said, though not addressing Thompson specifically.

Thompson wore baggy gray sweats and a black Jumpman hoodie, displaying little emotion while on an unofficial visit Tuesday.

He spent most of the time standing with Roderick and Christensen in the middle of the field, jogging with the quarterbacks as they moved from drill to drill.

The team could not immediately make him available for comment, citing a need to first check with the school's compliance office. He is in Salt Lake City for about a week.

mpiper@sltrib.com

Twitter: @matthew_piper