Play him or preserve him? Both? Jack Tuttle’s redshirt potential figures into Utes' No. 2 QB battle

Freshman could appear in four or fewer games and save a year’s eligibility.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Ute quarterback Jack Tuttle looks for a receiver down field during practice, Friday, Aug. 3, 2018.

Jack Tuttle looked into the camera, cringed about what he just said and immediately delivered a retake.

“I’m going to compete my butt off and do whatever I can for the team,” he said.

Tuttle then laughed, knowing that’s not necessarily how interviews work. Yet his earnest attempt to change the word for a body part was another example of how Utah’s freshman quarterback is always trying to make a good impression. He even wants to say the standard cliches properly.

Tuttle is a subject of fascination in the Utes' preseason camp, for multiple reasons. The curly haired Californian is the most celebrated quarterback recruit in school history, yet he won’t be the starter this season — or even next year, if junior Tyler Huntley performs as expected.

The immediate question is how to deploy Tuttle in his first season in the program, with a new variable created by the NCAA. Any player can can appear in four or fewer games without using a year of eligibility.

That's why Ute offensive coordinator Troy Taylor said, “With Jack, there's a certain strategy. Obviously, you'd like to get an extra year for a guy.”

The dynamic adds another layer to Tuttle's competition for the No. 2 job with Jason Shelley, who already has redshirted. Utah's coaches will pick Huntley's backup this month in a process that will intensify with Saturday's closed scrimmage (with no media availability afterward).

If Tuttle is the choice, the management of his 2018 season will get interesting, with Huntley's health and performance becoming major factors. The coaches would have to prepare Tuttle to play if necessary and try to get him some game experience, while being mindful of the four-game limit. The other theory is if he's the clear-cut No. 2 quarterback, he may be needed often enough to do away with any redshirting plan.

“Before, you wanted to make a decision on a guy pretty early,” Taylor said. “Now, it’s going to be [whether] you can get away with utilizing him — just not over four games. That’s the ideal situation.”

Taylor is maintaining a long-term view of the program, although college football has changed since 1986 when he became California’s starting quarterback in the fifth game of his freshman season (a 14-12 loss to Oregon State). In those days, athletes didn’t graduate early from high school and enroll in college in January, as Tuttle did — “one of the best things I could have done,” he said.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Redshirt freshman quarterback Jason Shelley works out on the first day of Spring practice, Monday, March 5, 2018.

True freshmen are playing everywhere lately, including Washington’s Jake Browning in 2015, after he played for Taylor in high school in California. It’s also true that Sam Darnold redshirted as a freshman at USC, before playing two seasons and becoming the No. 3 pick in the NFL draft.

“In the end, playing a quarterback that's a true freshman is not a good situation,” Taylor said. “I did it as a player. … You're almost in survival mode, trying to get by. If you can redshirt them, it's ideal. But that's not always the case.”

Tuttle is disregarding any of these scenarios. “I’m not really worried about it,” he said. “I’m just going to trust what the coaches say.”

Shelley remains a key character in this story, although he’s easily overlooked amid the intrigue about Tuttle. Even if becomes the No. 3 QB, the Texan could be sent into a game ahead of Tuttle under certain circumstances, just because of Tuttle’s redshirt possibilities. In another sense, with the way quarterbacking works, this month’s competition might be Shelley’s last chance at Utah. He could become like Conner Manning, Donovan Isom, Micah Thomas and other Ute QBs of this decade who transferred or changed positions.

That's far from his mind, of course. The battle with Tuttle is “exciting,” Shelley said. “It brings the best out of people. It makes everybody work harder, because somebody's trying to come get you. It's pretty fun, trying to compete every day.”


Jason Shelley

Ht./Wt.: 6-0, 181. High school: Lone Star (Little Elm, Texas). Interests: Played basketball and baseball in high school. Credentials: Ranked 12th nationally among dual-threat quarterbacks by 247Sports and 27th by ESPN. … Passed for 2,975 yards (195-of-306) and 24 touchdowns (four interceptions), and rushed 180 times for 629 yards and 20 touchdowns as a senior

Jack Tuttle

Ht./Wt.: 6-3, 210. High school: Mission Hills (San Marcos, Calif.). Interests: Hiking, biking, Ultimate Frisbee, reggae. Credentials: Completed 205 of 295 passes for 3,171 yards and 41 touchdowns with four interceptions as a senior. … No. 4-ranked pro-style quarterback in the country by Rivals.com and No. 5 by 247Sports … Named the No. 13 player in California by 247Sports … earned places in the 2017 Elite 11 finals and The Opening.