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(Chris Detrick | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Utes tight end Westlee Tonga (80) scores a touchdown past Utah Utes linebacker Jared Norris (41) and Utah Utes defensive back Justin Thomas (12) during a scrimmage at Rice-Eccles Stadium Saturday April 5, 2014.
Utah football: What we’ve learned as Utes’ camp ends
College football » Resolution at QB and offensive line, but secondary still a concern.
First Published Aug 22 2014 03:53 pm • Last Updated Aug 23 2014 04:49 pm

We had questions, and we got answers.

We know Travis Wilson will be the starting quarterback, and which five linemen will grapple to protect him, and what we can expect from a score of players wearing crimson for the first time.

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But the more you learn, the less you know. You know? So where does that leave us as Utah’s fall camp comes to a close and Utah embarks on what may be a make-or-break season? Here’s what we learned:

It’s Wilson’s team » Utah will vote for captains Friday night, and at the risk of a "Dewey defeats Truman" moment, we can safely guess that Wilson will again be one of them.

(Author’s note: He wasn’t. Ouch.)

There has been a lot of chatter about the greatness of the Pac-12’s 2014 quarterbacks class. Little of it has involved Wilson. But in beating out Oklahoma transfer Kendal Thompson, Wilson edged a guy who at one time was thought to be a contender to start for the now-No. 3 Sooners, and who showed flashes of highlight-reel ability in live work witnessed this August by the media.

If what we’re told is true, fans should expect to see Wilson not only return to the form that he showed before he injured his hand against No. 5 Stanford, but take a step forward toward the upper echelon of Pac-12 quarterbacks.

Thompson will continue to get some snaps — he’s earned it, says head coach Kyle Whittingham — but for better or worse, Utah is Travis Wilson’s team.


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story continues below

All on the line » There were a few givens: 1. Jeremiah Poutasi would start at left tackle, 2. Junior Salt would start at left guard and 3. Siaosi Aiono would start at center.

Utah needed to find the right mix on right side, though, and they needed to do it quickly enough to get that group accustomed to each other before the Aug. 28 opener.

It may have taken a little longer than they wanted, but coaches settled on Isaac Asiata at right guard and J.J. Dielman at right tackle, with the next-best option seeming to be Asiata at right tackle and Salesi Uhatafe at right guard.

In Asiata, they have experience and versatility, and in Dielman, a 6-foot-4, 290-pound sophomore, a coordinated athlete who may be better-suited to new offensive coordinator Dave Christensen’s up-tempo preference.

New and improvements » Not only did Utah coaches find themselves evaluating a new recruiting class, but also an inordinately large group of highly thought-of walk-ons and a couple players who signed with Utah last year but had yet to see the field.

Of those, a handful figure to factor in right away.

On offense, 6-foot-5 walk-on transfer Tim Patrick made an impression amid a crowded field at wide receiver — so much so that he’s listed as a starter in the latest two-deep. A better bet to have done that would have been Kaelin Clay, who came to the U. with one year of eligibility and whose veins are said to circulate jet fuel, but the track burner took a little longer to acclimate and may play his largest role as a kick and punt returner.

Two newcomers earned starting or co-starting roles with the defense: safety Tevin Carter and defensive tackle Lowell Lotuelei.

Carter, a senior, erased doubts that spring ankle surgery compromised his top-end speed, and Lotulelei — just a true freshman — has shown flashes of the same attributes that made his older brother Star a first-round NFL draft pick.

Here’s what we don’t know:

The new O.C.’s offense » Christensen hasn’t been shy about his emphasis on tempo. He wants Utah to play faster than they ever have before, and he has used a 20-second play clock to ensure they did so during scrimmages and live work.

Beyond that, though, it’s hard to say much about how his offense will look.

Christensen’s spread, various sources have told us, makes greater use of the full width of the field than others, and he attempts to stretch the field vertically — though you’d be hard-pressed to find a modern offense that doesn’t.

It seems that he’ll be more likely to use a lone tight end, detach him from the line, and make him a pass-catching target. If so, that may spell a big year for senior Westlee Tonga.

And Christensen seems content with using three running backs — Bubba Poole, Troy McCormick and Devontae Booker — and lining all three up as receivers, both out wide and in the slot.

So those are some observations and informed guesses. But until Thursday, we won’t know the true hallmarks of Christensen’s Utah offense.

Secondary concerns » Utah had a fairly injury-free fall camp, with one very notable exception.

Sophomore Reginald Porter was making a strong case as the team’s best cover corner, and a knee injury ended his season before it started. Without Porter, Utah has starters throughout the secondary they feel comfortable with, but a dearth of experience among backups.

Should there be an injury right now, senior cornerback Wykie Freeman or junior safety Charles Henderson could step in and there may not be a significant drop-off. Beyond them, however, are players like Brian Allen and Dominique Hatfield — wide receivers until this fall camp — or freshman like Marcus Williams, Andre Godfrey and Boobie Hobbs.

Are they a match for Marcus Mariota, Brett Hundley or Sean Mannion? We may see.

Is better good enough? » Whittingham has said, repeatedly, that this is the most talent he’s had since joining the Pac-12.

He would know.

But Utah has one of the toughest schedules in the nation, and the rest of the league seems to be cresting in 2015. The superseding question seems to be: If Christensen proves a mastermind and the secondary holds up and Wilson realizes his full potential ... will any of that matter?

And that, they say, is why they play the game.

mpiper@sltrib.com

Twitter: @matthew_piper



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