Two years ago, Zack Moss and Armand Shyne were about even in Utah's rotation of running backs, as the Utes looked for players to fill Joe Williams' temporary absence.

Moss clearly has moved ahead of Shyne since then. That’s not necessarily Shyne’s fault, because he has performed well in spring drills and preseason practice in advance of Utah’s opener Thursday vs. Weber State at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Injuries have limited Shyne to five games in two years, while Moss has developed into “an elite back in the Pac-12,” Ute coach Kyle Whittingham said.

Shyne was Utah's leading rusher with 373 yards through five games in 2016, before an injury ended his season. Williams' absence from the program turned out to be temporary (the coaches asked him to come back, after losing Shyne in a win over Arizona), and he was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers.

Last year, the loss of Shyne to a preseason injury gave Moss a full season of opportunity, and he took advantage of it by rushing for 1,173 yards.

This season, Whittingham said, “Armand Shyne will get some time and some carries, but Zack Moss is the lead back” in Utah’s one-back offensive scheme.

UTE BREAKDOWN


This is the fifth installment in a series during August about Utah’s position groups. Today: the running backs.

Devonta’e Henry Cole, who played regularly in relief of Moss last season, is out for the year due to injury. He has a redshirt year available, with two seasons of eligibility remaining. Redshirt freshman TJ Green and true freshman Devin Brumfield had good moments in August and hope to play situationally.

Moss appears primed for a big year, perhaps even challenging the Utes' season and career rushing records as a junior. He posted five 100-yard games last season: 128 vs. North Dakota in the opener, 141 vs. USC, 153 vs. UCLA, 196 vs. Colorado in the regular-season finale and 150 vs. West Virginia in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.

Whittingham said something happened with Moss in the middle of the season, as he became a much more aggressive runner, starting with the Oct. 15 game at USC. The Utes have been careful to limit the hits Moss absorbed in practice, keeping him healthy for the 2018 season, when he hopes to display more breakaway ability.

“Just get me through August, and we’ll see,” he said on the first day of practice.