A beginning-of-spring practice depth chart should never be taken too seriously.
That is a hard-and-fast college football rule. Spring ball hasn’t actually started yet, so no live reps have occurred and, frankly, at positions where there are questions to be answered, a coaching staff might not have a solid idea yet of what it has.
This leads us to the University of Utah, which released its initial spring two-deep on Monday ahead of the team’s first spring practice later in the afternoon. Radical changes have occurred inside Kyle Whittingham’s quarterbacks room. Charlie Brewer (Baylor) and Ja’Quinden Jackson (Texas) have arrived as high-profile Power Five transfers, as has four-star early enrollee Peter Costelli, the cornerstone of Whittingham’s 2021 recruiting class.
With that in mind, the two-deep at quarterback released Monday lacked context. Brewer is listed as the starter, while Costelli is penciled in as the backup. Jackson is not listed, nor is Cameron Rising, but the latter is injury-related. Rising is out for spring practice. He is slated to be ready for fall camp after suffering a season-ending shoulder injury in the Nov. 21 game vs. USC.
In regard to Rising, Whittingham made clear for a second time that this quarterback competition will not be settled until the summer, at which point Rising’s play can be properly gauged, post-shoulder surgery.
“It’s just a very raw, early speculation on how we’re going and what we feel is the pecking order right now,” Whittingham said on a Zoom call. “That could change dramatically as guys start to take reps, so there is really nothing to read into that other than we don’t have any guys coming back other than Cam.
“We’ll do a best-guess scenario and let it sort itself out. Charlie’s the upperclassman, the senior. All the other ones are freshmen, so naturally, we figured Charlie would be the leader of that group, at least at the onset, and we’ll see what happens from there.”
However the quarterback situation ultimately shakes out, the dynamic of the room is going to be radically different than a year ago.
Brewer is the elder statesman, having thrown for 9,700 yards and 65 touchdowns in four seasons in Waco. Jackson did not take a snap as a true freshman last season, but, like Brewer, has a huge pedigree as a four-star recruit out of Dallas-area power Duncanville High School.
Costelli has been viewed as the future of the position at Utah, although Jackson also being a freshman could make for some interesting battles down the road for first-team reps.
“Everybody is one, everybody is a unit, everybody is sticking together,” Jackson said. “It’s a family here, and that’s a plus for me. That’s one of the things I love about this program.”
Added Brewer: “I think there’s competition everywhere you go in college football. I welcome that. I’ve been through many competitions before and I think, not only is it good for me, it’s good for the team.”
Whittingham addresses Guy Holliday exit, Chad Bumphis hire
Utah is breaking in a new wide receivers coach in Chad Bumphis, although he was with the program in Salt Lake City as an offensive graduate in 2018.
His hiring on March 8 came in the wake of Guy Holliday’s exit under murky circumstances a week earlier. For the first time Monday, Whittingham addressed the situation.
“It’s nothing against Coach Holliday, love Coach Holliday, he’s a close friend, but we felt maybe a new face, new voice in that room would be something that would be a positive,” Whittingham said. “We do need to add to that group, we lost a couple of guys in the portal, and we’re planning to add to that group.”
Adding to that group means Whittingham and his staff will hit the transfer portal, but likely not until the summer, after roster volatility calms down nationwide in the wake of spring ball.
For now, Bumphis inherits a position group in transition. Bryan Thompson and Samson Nacua both transferred in February. In an effort to increase depth, defensive backs Caine Savage and Ben Renfro have both moved to wide receiver for the spring, and possibly beyond.
“He already knew what we’re all about, how we run things, how we operate and it seemed to be a really good fit,” Whittingham said of Bumphis. “He was really popular with the players back when he was here back in ’18. We have four or five players still on the roster from that year, and they were all positive in their viewpoint and opinion of Chad.”
COVID-19 vaccine not likely to be mandated
Just as it did during the fall in an effort to play games, Utah is undergoing daily COVID-19 testing in an effort to get all of spring practice completed.
It is worth noting that on April 1, which falls in the middle of the spring ball schedule, all adults in the state of Utah will be eligible to sign up for the vaccine.
Utes athletic director Mark Harlan told The Salt Lake Tribune that they would follow the university’s lead when asked whether or not the athletic department would make a vaccine mandatory. Whittingham on Monday took that answer a little further.
“We’re encouraging it, and I think most of our guys will get the vaccine,” Whittingham said. “I can’t say that for certain, but I don’t think that’s something that should be mandated. I think that’s something that should be an individual decision, but we’ll see how that goes.”