Before the University of Utah football program even began spring practice on March 15, Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham knew that wide receiver was the biggest question mark his roster faced.
On Feb. 2, redshirt junior Bryan Thompson entered the NCAA Transfer Portal after 33 games across four seasons with the Utes. Thompson eventually landed at Arizona State. Three weeks after Thompson left, Samson Nacua opted for the portal, taking 45 games, 1,015 yards and 11 touchdowns with him.
Those defections left Britain Covey, Jaylen Dixon, Solomon Enis, and a lot of unknown in the wide receivers room for Whittingham, offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig and Chad Bumphis, the program’s new wide receivers coach. Bumphis, a former Utes graduate assistant, replaces Guy Holliday, who was let go in the wake of Thomspon and Nacua transferring.
Whittingham was not shy during spring ball about two things: that Utah needed depth at the position and that he planned to wade through the transfer portal to find immediate help.
The dust has settled on spring practice, and while the wide receiver situation at Utah is still a bit of a question mark, that question mark does not feel as big as it once did.
If Covey is healthy, he remains a dynamic, multidimensional weapon within Utah’s offensive scheme. In four games during the truncated five-game 2020 season, the redshirt junior had 19 catches for 264 yards and three touchdowns on his way to All-Pac-12 honorable mention honors. Last season was the third time Covey has led the Utes in receiving yards following his true freshman season in 2015 and his sophomore season in 2018 following a two-year LDS mission.
Dixon played in all 28 games between the 2018 and 2019 seasons, catching 56 passes for 932 yards and three scores, but opted for the transfer portal last season before deciding to return. His being back in the fold could be a boon given his level of production during his first two seasons.
Is Enis ready for a breakout season? The junior has 38 catches for 445 yards and two touchdowns in 33 career games, but he hasn’t been targeted a ton and therefore, it is, for now, unknown whether or not he can be the high-usage, downfield threat the Utes could use to soften up defenses. At 6-foot-3, Enis is the tallest, most-athletic target Ludwig has at his disposal.
Beyond Covey, Dixon and Enis, Whittingham still has to figure some things out.
Whittingham gave a lot of praise during spring ball to DeVaughn Vele, a third-year freshman who had four catches for 66 yards in the spring game. Coming out of spring, Whittingham liked Vele at WR4, but Vele’s play has to translate to the fall.
As of Thursday, add Oklahoma transfer Theo Howard to the mix after he committed to the Utes.
Howard’s time in Norman yielded an Achilles injury in January 2020, then 13 catches in eight games. His history in the Pac-12, though, may lead people to believe he can have a huge impact at Utah. Between his sophomore and junior seasons at UCLA in 2018 and 2019, Howard had 107 catches for 1,271 yards and eight scores.
Other young, unproven names to keep an eye on as fall camp looms include freshman Money Parks, who Whittingham said during spring was flirting WR5, and classmates Connor O’Toole and Caine Savage.
Savage, who played in one game last season on special teams, is a converted cornerback. Whittingham was noncommittal during spring if Savage would remain at wide receiver or move back to cornerback come fall.