Kyle Whittingham is an intense dude.
So when you hear the Utah football coach — who is entering his 14th year as this fall — describe his starting quarterback in the manner in which he does, you should know that they seem to be, at least in a football sense, kindred spirits. Last year Tyler Huntley put it all on the line every play, took vicious hits for the sake of maybe gaining the extra yard, and it became a talking point when injuries struck.
It still is. Because when you’re that important to the success of the team, you have to pick your spots.
“He’s as fierce of a competitor as I’ve ever been around, and you like to see that,” Whittingham said of his junior quarterback on Wednesday. “It’s always better to have to temper somebody than have to light a fire underneath them. That’s the case with Tyler. He’s a guy who just wants to do everything he can to help us win.”
The Utes’ dynamic 6-foot-1 playmaker is being asked to watch film from his starts in 2017 and see which areas of contact can be avoided as much as possible. As Whittingham has noted since Huntley assumed the role as starting quarterback last season, the signal-caller has to be “a little more judicious” in scraping for the extra yard and stay on his feet to be able to return to the huddle for the next play.
“Sometimes he’s got to understand that means not taking a lick, stepping out of bounds or getting out of harm’s way,” Whittingham said.
Huntley, who a year ago was listed at 190 pounds, is up to 200 pounds according to his bio on the Utah football website. Whittingham said the staff would like to see Huntley keep adding to that to help him absorb the hits that will likely still be part of the equation in the zone-read portion of the playbook.
Huntley, Whittingham added, “is not quite where he needs to be yet.”
Huntley went 6-4 in his first season as a starter, accounting for 21 touchdowns (15 in the air and six on the ground). He threw for 2,411 yards with a 64 percent completion rate. After returning home to Florida this offseason, Huntley worked out with Pittsburgh Steelers star Antonio Brown, who also grew up in the greater Miami area.
Whittingham said Huntley hasn’t skipped a beat as the team’s go-to voice this summer.
“It’s inherent with the position,” Whittingham said of Huntley’s qualities in the huddle, “and everyone is going to look to the quarterback for leadership and that comes with the territory. Tyler is a very good leader for us.”
A new boss
For the first time in well, forever, Whittingham has a new boss.
He isn’t the only one, either. Mark Harlan took over for the recently retired Chris Hill as Utah’s athletic director after Hill changed the landscape of Utah athletics in his 31 years in the position. Whittingham was on hand Monday when Harlan summoned athletics department staffers in the hours before his introductory press conference.
“We’re all looking forward to Mark’s ideas and what he has in mind,” Whittingham said. “I haven’t had a chance to visit with him one-on-one yet, but I’m eager to do that and see what his thoughts are.”
Still waiting on Bernard
There is no update on where Utah stands regarding the potential addition of former BYU linebacker Francis Bernard, Whittingham said.
A couple of weeks after ESPN 960 reported that Bernard, a 6-foot-1, 240-pound linebacker, would play at Utah, Whittingham said there is nothing new to report.
“Not right now,” he said. “Where [Bernard] is a recruitable athlete, you can’t make any statements about him, other than he’s just trying to get himself right as far as the transfer requirements.”