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(Scott Sommerdorf | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah QB Travis Wilson during Utah football practice at Rice Eccles Stadium, Saturday, March 22, 2014.
Monson: Utah buoyed by new hope at quarterback on the horizon

First Published Apr 19 2014 04:34 pm • Last Updated Apr 19 2014 09:51 pm

At the collision of pomp and pigskin in Rice-Eccles Stadium on Saturday, the Utes trying to dress up their Red-White spring game into the football celebration it should be, there were all kinds of things to see, from new faces in the secondary to new looks across the offense to new influences by new coaches to new hope that this time of year naturally brings.

But the view that snagged almost everyone’s attention was … the quarterbacks. A whole lot of quarterbacks. Attendance was announced at 12,056 and, I swear, half of them were quarterbacks.

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Travis Wilson was there. Adam Schulz was there. Conner Manning was there. Brandon Cox was there. Jason Thompson was there. Two more QBs who weren’t there will be there soon enough: Oklahoma transfer Kendal Thompson and incoming freshman Donovan Isom.

Make it a table for about six, then — and keep a couple of leaves handy for further expansion or, in case somebody gets lost or frustrated in the crowd, contraction.

It could go either way.

"We’ve seen enough of these guys to have a general idea [about their abilities]," Kyle Whittingham said afterward. "Now, we’ll see what Kendal can do."

The Utes have learned their lesson well, though it was a long time coming, that the most important position on the field cannot be somebody’s afterthought. It can’t be treated the same way defensive linemen or linebackers are treated, as though the next guy, even if he were picked off the scrap heap from Division III Southwest Presbyterian, can step right in and make it work.

That doesn’t work.

It’s been a decade since there was any stability at Ute quarterback. And this is the year that rupturing has to change, or else some other coaching staff will be making the adjustment. Injuries happen — and there’s not much of anything anyone can do about that, except to prepare for the possibility with more than a capable backup, a starter-quality backup.

So, the Utes on Saturday were looking for legitimate starters, with another supposedly solid candidate arriving in June. They’ll beef up the group before they thin it down. If you’ve got six or seven quarterbacks, you’ve got none. But if you’ve got two able quarterbacks, you’ve got a shot to win games, come what may, in the Pac-12.

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All those sets of eyes at Rice-Eccles — including Whittingham, new offensive coordinator Dave Christensen and QB coach Aaron Roderick — were looking for those able guys. In a tightly controlled exhibition, here’s what they saw:

Wilson, who suffered a season-ending intracranial artery injury in November, looked comfortable, if not spectacular, starting for the Reds. He completed 7 of 12 throws for 116 yards, 1 touchdown and zero picks.

"I was really happy," he said. "Happy with my performance."

Said Roderick: "Travis did what we wanted him to do. He played clean. He wasn’t flashy, but he did a good job."

Schulz, who started for the White team, hit on 9 of 13 passes for 110 yards and 1 TD.

"He didn’t turn the ball over and he showed his arm strength. He can get it down the field quick," Roderick said.

Manning connected on 9 of 12 balls for 86 yards and 1 score.

"It went well for me," he said. "The offense was simplified, but we took a big step up with our tempo."

Said Roderick: "He went to the right place with the ball. He has a quick release."

Cox, with his churning feet and gambling style, completed 5 of 9 passes for 126 yards, and he ran for a touchdown, but he also threw two picks for long returns.

Said Roderick: "He’s talented and smart, but he can’t turn the ball over."

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