If it seems like he’s open, he is. Not always, but a lot. Like, quite often.
That’s the job description for this job title, of course. Burst off the line with enough power and resolve to find a way to confuse the man lined up across from you to create enough time and enough space to become an option for your quarterback. Nobody does that like Britain Covey, at least no one else at Utah.
Not only is he always an option, he is so often the option. At all of his 5-foot-8, 170-pound frame, Covey is, once more, proving to be an indispensable cornerstone to an offense still very much in need of its elusive go-to target on a weekly basis.
So how is it that Covey can be open so often?
Is it a byproduct of the slot position?
Is it the opposition allowing him small chunks of yards instead of big plays?
Is it because he’s so quick, so shifty, so determined to get to his spot first that he is almost always there when needed?
It’s everything, really.
“He’s coming from a disadvantage because he’s the smallest kid on the field,” said former Utah wide receiver Kenneth Scott, who played with Covey in 2015. “But you’re not going to out-work him. You aren’t going to have more heart than him.”
UTAH AT NO. 14 STANFORD
When • Saturday, 8:30 p.m. MDT
TV • ESPN
Yes, he’s nifty. Yes, he’s crafty. Yes, his awareness on the field is second-to-none. And just like it did during his freshman All-American season in 2015, it’s showing once more. Covey has become quarterback Tyler Huntley’s most reliable wideout. Some perspective: During Covey’s banner freshman season three years ago, he had 43 receptions all year. Through four games, he’s already over 60 percent the way there with 27 grabs. That’s tied for sixth most in the Pac-12. He has 16 more catches than the next closest Utah wideout.
“He’s not necessarily going to run by you on a 9-route [fly] and separate,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said, “but when he has a chance to run a jerk route or an option route or any of the intermediate routes we ask him to do most of the time, he is able to start and stop on a dime and change direction.”
As Utah’s coach explains, Covey’s position and accompanying routes allow him a bit of freedom to find holes in the defense. It’s imperative, Covey explains, for him to get off the line of scrimmage as cleanly as possible when facing a man-to-man coverage, for obvious reasons. Not so much against the zone where it’s about getting to your spot — and open — before the nearest defender.
Against a zone, Covey says: “You make a clear picture for Tyler. I make a decision so early that I know what I’m going to do. You see it on film so many times that I make a clear picture for Tyler.”
The pair have broken down game film together. When Huntley points out a small mistake Covey makes in a route, the sophomore receiver doesn’t make the same miscue twice.
“He trusts me that anything he tells me to do, I can do,” Covey said.
It’s a straightforward explanation for their chemistry early on in 2018. When the game’s on the line, Huntley is looking for No. 18. When Utah needed a touchdown on its final drive last weekend, he found Covey on a 36-yard play across the middle on a 4th-and-10 with just over a minute remaining. It would’ve taken the Utes to the Washington State 7-yard line. But a holding call negated what might’ve been.
Pac-12 Networks analyst Yogi Roth teaches the exact same route to receivers at the Elite 11 camp every year. The quick faint to the right needs to be as long as a selfie snap with your cell phone. You can’t go too early, Roth tells them, and as he saw first-hand Saturday, Covey perfected it, losing his defender just two yards off the line of scrimmage, breaking free into space.
“I watch receivers every week and a lot of guys run routes to run routes,” Roth said. “That’s the difference between playing catch and wide receiver.”
Outside of running back Zack Moss, teams are going to do their best to take Covey out of the equation going forward, especially on third downs, Roth said. One thing’s certain: Covey’s made a fan out of one opposing conference coach.
“There’s certain guys that just have a knack for playing the game and that’s what this kid is — this kid is just a baller,” Stanford coach David Shaw said. “He just comes up, he runs routes, he gets open, he catches the ball, he fights for every inch. You wish every single guy that played the sport of football in every position played with this guy’s fire and passion.”
Against Stanford this weekend, Covey will be doing much of the same. Finding space against a zone or finding a way to win a man-to-man battle and give Huntley yet another window to throw into.
“I don’t try and do things I can’t do, like catch a fade ball,” Covey said. “I try to make it evident to Tyler, not for my sake, but for the team’s sake. I’ll tell him, ‘Look if I’m running this route and it’s man coverage, don’t look at everyone else, because I know I’m going to win.’”
AT A GLANCE
Utah wide receiver Britain Covey
Height » 5-foot-8
Weight » 170 pounds
Position » Wide receiver
Class » Sophomore
Hometown » Provo, Utah
High school » Timpview
The No. 1 option yet again » Has a team-high 27 receptions through four games for a total of 284 yards and has five rushes for 43 yards. Covey’s 27 receptions are tied for sixth-most in the Pac-12 among wide receivers.