Whittingham places his faith in Johnson
Jordan Wynn looked around, making sure Brian Johnson was close enough to hear every word before launching into a mock tirade about the horrors of working with Utah's new quarterback coach.
His joking approach to answering the question illustrated that even as a sophomore-to-be, Wynn is feeling comfortable as an established QB. And Wynn having a 23-year-old position coach is creating a new dynamic in a critical relationship.
I'm having trouble picturing Wynn publicly kidding Dave Schramm, in other words.
Johnson becoming the Football Bowl Subdivision's youngest full-time coach is a major statement for coach Kyle Whittingham. As the Utes practice in Whittingham's sixth spring, he recognizes that quarterback is as important as cornerback. That's saying something. In Utah's high-pressure, man-to-man defensive scheme, the corners are the key to the whole operation.
When offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig left after the 2008 season, Whittingham filled the vacancy by hiring J.D. Williams to coach the corners. Yet when Williams moved to UNLV in December, Whittingham made offense a priority by hiring Johnson. Jay Hill's versatility enabled him to move from offense back to defense, coaching the corners again.
Whittingham believes in Johnson, saying he approached him about coaching immediately after graduation. Johnson, who finished his college career in '08 with a school-record 26 victories as a starting QB, initially chose to pursue pro football.
While hiring a quarterback coach with no experience seems like accepting fan-forum advice, it has worked for BYU with Brandon Doman and likely will do the same for Utah. Whittingham also gave former Ute safety Morgan Scalley a job soon after his playing career ended. So Whittingham laughed when I reminded him that everybody should have to spend six years coaching at a place like Idaho State, as he did, before landing a prime position in a Top 25 program. Johnson, who enrolled in the school at 17, "has always been ahead of the curve," Whittingham said.
Somebody's responsibilities had to change as a result of Johnson's hiring. After one season in his dream job of coaching quarterbacks (and seven games of calling the plays) at this level, Schramm is now working with tight ends, and receivers coach Aaron Roderick, promoted to co-offensive coordinator with Schramm, will remain the play-caller.
"It's tough to be a coordinator and give the quarterback the attention that he needs," Whittingham said. "This year, I think the configuration is better for that."
Amid the staff issues and the switch from Terrance Cain to Wynn at halftime of the eighth game, the Utes still ranked third in the Mountain West Conference in total offense at 393 yards a game. If a rebuilt receiving corps comes along and Wynn keeps developing under Johnson's guidance, Utah should be more effective.
"He's a young guy with a lot of excitement, and he's doing all he can to make me great," Wynn said.
That process begins at the end of games, when Johnson excelled. The Utes won four one-score games in Johnson's unbeaten senior season, highlighted by three winning drives in the final minutes.
In his five starts, Wynn faced critical sequences only once. "The BYU game comes to mind," said Johnson, who wants to help him become "a master of situational football."
In moving from player to coach, Johnson is glad to have a one-year buffer, with receiver Jereme Brooks and tailback Matt Asiata the only remaining players among '08 offensive regulars. Aside from Wynn's progress, Johnson's biggest success this spring may be the way Cain keeps competing as a deposed starter, earning praise from Whittingham. Griff Robles is the No. 3 quarterback.
"I'm responsible for the production of that position," Johnson said. "It's something I take great pride in, and I have a great relationship with all three of those guys."
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