Kyle Whittingham has four high-profile, Power Five transfers at his disposal as spring practice rolls on at the University of Utah, two at quarterback and two at running back.
They may all be transfers, but they’re not all in the same boat. As a graduate transfer from Baylor, quarterback Charlie Brewer is eligible immediately for the Utes. Normally, freshman quarterback Ja’Quinden Jackson, junior running back T.J. Pledger, and redshirt sophomore running back Chris Curry would have to either sit one season, or petition the NCAA for an immediate-eligibility waiver.
The need for Jackson, Pledger and Curry to all sit out the 2021 season may soon disappear, though. On Wednesday, the NCAA Division I Council reaffirmed its preference to vote as soon as April on a legislative proposal that would allow student-athletes, regardless of sport, to transfer one time without having to sit a season as penalty.
Whittingham has sounded optimistic in the past the NCAA would eventually vote the legislation through. With the college sports governing body weighing in again this week, the Utes coach is not changing his stance.
The Division I Council is scheduled to meet next on April 14. This one-time transfer exemption proposal was introduced into the 2020-21 legislative cycle in October, and was tabled in January before a vote could take place.
“I don’t see it not happening, but just when you say that, they could pull a reversal on you,” Whittingham said Friday morning on a Zoom call. “There are just so many guys that have already transferred with that premise in mind, that it’s going to be an immediate eligibility situation. I think they would have a real issue on their hands if they don’t continue to move down that path and make it official. I see that being the case and being implemented when the vote occurs.”
With a potential April vote pending, Whittingham made clear that Utah will go through spring practice under the assumption that everyone is eligible. Players will get the reps the coaching staff feel they deserve, and nothing about what the Utes are doing will be altered due to eligibility uncertainty.
Jackson is engaging in a wide-ranging quarterback competition, not only with Brewer, but with four-star freshman Peter Costelli and, eventually when his surgically-repaired shoulder allows it, incumbent redshirt sophomore Cameron Rising.
At 6-foot-2, 230 pounds, Jackson is an imposing presence, not only in the pocket, but with his legs. In three seasons at Dallas-area power Duncanville High School, Jackson rushed for almost 3,300 yards and 51 touchdowns, which led to a question Friday morning as to whether or not he may be utilized in the offense short of winning the starting job.
“Absolutely, he’s got the skill set to play wildcat quarterback and about five or six other positions on the field,” Whittingham said. “Right now, he is at quarterback, he’s doing a nice job for only having a short time and a couple of practices. He certainly has the ability, size, ability, speed, quickness. He has a lot of potential to do a lot of things, but for right now, we’re working with him as a standard quarterback and we’ll see what happens.”
The offseason program and the early days of spring ball without pads makes it tough to fully gauge any individual position group, but Whittingham also offered positive initial returns on Pledger and Curry.
Much like the quarterback situation, the running back situation at Utah has undergone a radical shift following the death of Ty Jordan and the respective transfers of Devin Brumfield and Jordan Wilmore.
“They’re adjusting phenomenally, their work either and attitude has been outstanding,” Whittingham said. “It’s been a really good fit so far, but they’re different types of back. Chris Curry is a pounder, more of a physical inside runner. T.J. is more of a scatback, doesn’t have quite the size Chris has and is more of a different runner.
“What’s been really pleasing from both of them is their blitz pickup and their ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. They seem to both be complete backs and be able to do what we need them to.”