With the University of Utah’s pandemic-shortened three-session spring practice no longer even visible in his rearview mirror, Jake Bentley believes it isn’t worth it to dabble in what-ifs.
The Utes’ new graduate-transfer quarterback is willing to do so anyway.
A 33-game starter across parts of four seasons at the University of South Carolina, Bentley committed to the Utes on Dec. 9, then arrived in Salt Lake City on Jan. 3, three days before the start of the spring semester. Bentley went through the offseason program, then opened a three-way quarterback competition with redshirt sophomore Cam Rising and senior Drew Lisk.
Utah’s three spring practices gave way to a week off for spring break. The Utes never returned after the COVID-19 pandemic struck, indefinitely postponing all in-person team-related activities.
"At the end of the day, I think we all would’ve shown what we can do on the football field,” Bentley said Tuesday on a conference call with beat reporters from his family’s home in Lexington, S.C. “Spring practice would’ve allowed us to do that. It would have been clear who it was, but I think it goes back to my point that each day is an opportunity to compete.
“It would’ve definitely been a fun situation to have those scrimmages and those game-like reps, but the situation we’re in will take us to fall camp, whenever that is, so I guess it’ll shake out then. That’s why this time is so important, to not take any steps back and to keep getting better.”
Bentley suffered a season-ending Lisfranc injury to his right foot on the final play of the 2019 season-opener. He was a full participant once spring ball started at Utah, but still had a plate in the injured foot. Once Bentley was home in South Carolina and it was clear spring practice would not be resuming for the foreseeable future, Utes head football athletic trainer Joe McBeth advised Bentley to have the plate removed.
JAKE BENTLEY AT A GLANCE
• 6-foot-4, 220 pounds
• Graduate transfer from South Carolina
• Started 33 games for Gamecocks (19-14 overall, 10-7 in SEC)
• Threw for 7,527 yards, 55 touchdowns and 32 interceptions at South Carolina
• Involved in quarterback competition with redshirt sophomore Cameron Rising and senior Drew Lisk
With that not-so-minor piece of business taken care of sooner than later, Bentley wakes up most mornings around 8 a.m. and heads to rehab the foot at a local facility that has recently reopened. He goes home, grabs some food and heads out to a local field with his father, University of South Carolina tight ends coach Bobby Bentley, and his brother, who is in the ninth grade.
Bentley and his family built a bench/squat rack out of wood, which he documented on Twitter last month, so that gets plenty of use in the afternoon. Mixed in during the day is plenty of film study, along with virtual meetings with coaches and teammates.
Studying and absorbing film is always a vital element of a quarterback’s growth, but it becomes even more vital now. Eventually, there will be a ramp-up and a training camp ahead of the 2020 season. Bentley will need to be ready to go immediately, especially with an undetermined amount of time before the opener.
For what it’s worth, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said during spring practice that Rising was getting the better of things in the early going, but that was to be expected. Bentley is new, but Rising has a year under offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig’s system.
“I’d say every day, at least an hour or two hours a day [on the computer], trying to just grasp what the ins and outs of the offense are,” Bentley said. “Especially now, we’re going over stuff we didn’t get to in the spring. I’m just trying to go back through all the ins and outs of every play.
“So far in the virtual meetings, we’re just trying to get everything down in terms of the playbook on paper. Not being able to really do it with the full team, but really trying to get that first step down of really understanding it conceptually on paper and then able to go work on it myself and get everything down mentally before I step on the field.”
Speaking on a Pac-12-produced webinar on Tuesday morning, Whittingham offered a timeline for his quarterback situation. The 16th-year head coach would like to get from three candidates to two quickly, before settling on a starter two weeks before the opener, whenever that is.
In fairness, there is another timeline to consider down the road when dealing with a senior holding on to 2021 NFL draft aspirations.
A great many things would need to happen for this to come to fruition, but if the college football season moves to a later start, it is not out of the realm of possibility that players could opt to skip the season in favor of training for the NFL Draft.
Players, including some of real prominence in recent years like LSU’s Leonard Fournette and Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey, have skipped bowl games in favor of draft prep. This hypothetical has not escaped Bentley’s thinking, but for now, it doesn’t sound like he would be on board with such a move.
“No doubt, and I think that’s on the mind of a lot of seniors, draft-eligible players,” Bentley said. “I think for me, I’m playing football no matter what. That’s kind of the way I think about it. I don’t care if we play in the middle of March. I’m playing football, I’m a football player and that’s what I plan to do.
“I think the last thing draft guys or NFL coaches remember is, I left the field limping, you know what I’m saying? I want to get back on the field and prove what I can do and that’s the mentality I’ve taken on.”