There’s nothing that gets college football fans more excited than potential, and there’s nothing that causes more sorrow and angst for a fan base than potential unrealized.
This offseason put Utah solidly in the former category.
The most striking takeaway from the Utes’ recently completed spring practices might be that the offense’s ceiling has grown higher, with some major additions still to come.
There’s no guarantee they’ll reach lofty heights, but it appears that the Utes’ depth at the skill positions has reached a new level. For a program that has built an identity in the Pac-12 around a top-notch defense and a smash-mouth offensive line, upgrading its arsenal at wide receiver, tight end, quarterback and running back could prove pivotal for taking the next step.
“Getting [Britain] Covey in here will be huge,” Utes coach Kyle Whittingham said. “Getting Bryan Thompson back from an injury will be huge, [adding] Solomon Enis and Terrell Perriman from the freshman class. I think when it’s all said and done, it could be a very talented and deep group, but we’ll see what happens.”
Those words came with plenty of cautions, typical for a coach who knows full well the pitfalls. The Utes lost their top two receivers from the previous season, including a potential NFL Draft pick in Darren Carrington II.
However, the Utes heavily bolstered the tight end position through recruiting, added depth at wide receiver, as well as the backfield, and will return four starters on the offensive line.
Offensive coordinator Troy Taylor’s system has helped attract one of the most highly regarded quarterback and wide receiver tandems the program has ever brought in with the signings of quarterback Jack Tuttle and wide receiver Enis.
“I feel like we’ve got backs that can do what they’ve got to do,” Utes redshirt junior running back Armand Shyne said. “We’ve got receivers. We’ve got Brit coming back. We’ve got a lot of weapons everywhere. If we use them right, it’s going to be nice.”
Shyne looked poised to take control of the starting running back job two seasons ago during the Joe Williams retirement saga. However, injuries derailed that season (ACL) and kept him off the field completely this past season (broken arm).
Now, Shyne slots in behind dynamic back Zack Moss. Moss took the reins last year and rushed for more than 1,100 yards. That position group also includes shifty back Devonta’e Henry-Cole out of Florida, redshirt freshman TJ Green and true freshman Devin Brumfield a three-time all-state selection from Louisiana.
This spring’s receiving unit was only a shell of what should be in place for preseason camp. Bronson Boyd showed off his eye-opening potential before being sidelined by a nagging injury, while Jaylen Dixon and Jameson Field took advantage of their opportunities in the spring. Siaosi Mariner, Damari Simpkins and Samson Nacua each grabbed at least 20 catches last season, while Thompson came on as last season progressed.
The receiving corps will add Covey, a freshman All-American in 2015 before going on an LDS Church mission, as well as the Miami area product Perriman and a four-star recruit in the 6-foot-3 Enis.
They’ll also pair with a tight end stable led by Jake Jackson which has placed an increased emphasize speed and athleticism. Three spots in the recruiting class were devoted to improving that position, including one converted rugby player from Australia.
The Utah offense should only expect improved production in the second year under Taylor’s direction with former Florida High School Player of the Year and dual-threat quarterback Tyler Huntley calling the signals. He’ll have a duo of highly touted former high school quarterbacks in their own right backing him up.
“Obviously, we lost some good guys, but I think we have a little bit more depth,” Taylor said. “The guys have a better understanding of what they’re doing, and then we’ve got some more guys that are going to be coming in that I think can help us.
“Brit is a guy who has played college football, so we know he can play. Then Solomon Enis is a talented guy. He’s raw, but he’s really talented. Then Terrell Perriman is a guy we’re excited for, too. We get these guys healthy and we get all our guys, and I feel pretty good about them.”
Whittingham came away from spring practice with the health of his team relatively intact, having avoided major injuries for the most part.
The one possible exception could be junior college transfer defensive end Rex Jordan. Jordan finished the second scrimmage of the spring with his foot in a protective boot. Whittingham said the hope is Jordan’s injury won’t be long-term. However, it “remains to be seen” how he will heal and the injury could turn into a long-term issue, which means the Utes may have to explore a medical hardship for him.
As for the injured players who were held out of spring practice –—the list includes defensive backs Marquise Blair, Jaylon Johnson and Philip Afia as well as wide receiver Bryan Thompson and offensive lineman Darrin Paulo — Whittingham said everyone is on pace to be ready for the start of fall camp.