First, the disclaimers: Utah's receivers gets degree-of-difficulty points, going against one of the Pac-12's best secondaries in practice. Coach Kyle Whittingham's praise came after only the third day of practice. And he's shrewd enough to build up a position area that is being questioned from outside the program.
Even so, it was meaningful Friday when Whittingham, asked if any group had made a big impression in the first week of camp, immediately cited the receivers.
“I like the wide receivers' work ethic, how they're really getting after, taking care of business,” he said. “It's a group that is all business right now. There's really no group that's been disappointing, but I would say they've stood out.”
That’s encouraging. Having lost Darren Carrington II, who caught 70 passes in his only season with the Utes as a graduate transfer, the receivers lack proven qualities. Britain Covey is the only returning player who seemingly has maximized his ability — and that was two years ago, prior to his church mission.
This is the second installment in an occasional series about Utah’s position groups. Today: the receivers.
Yet the early signs suggest some productive players will emerge, and freshman Solomon Enis might be one of them. Whittingham has consistently mentioned the 6-foot-3 Enis, from Phoenix, without being asked about him (he has not cited Terrell Perriman, the other touted freshman receiver, so that’s a further endorsement of Enis).
Whittingham also pointed to Siaosi Mariner, Demari Simpkins, Samson Nacua and Covey, adding, “I'm sure I'm missing somebody” among seven or eight receivers who have looked good.
The receivers know what other people are saying about them. “We feel really good about ourselves,” Nacua said. “I hear a lot of talk about the receiving corps and how it's been in the past, and everyone's worried about that, but I know that we've all closed that off and are not worried about what people say. … We're ready to show everyone what we've got.”
Tight ends are often overlooked in the discussion of Utah’s offense, because they’re not a big part of the passing game. But junior Jake Jackson and sophomore Connor Haller appear capable of handling their blocking and receiving roles. The coaching staff has moved Ali’i Niumatalolo from linebacker to offense in a fullback/tight end role, a position the Utes employ occasionally. He’s a son of Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo.