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For Utah football, wide receivers may be a question mark, but tight ends are not

Junior tight end Brant Kuithe led the Utes in receptions in 2020 with 25

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah tight end Brant Kuithe (80) runs for the Utes, in Alamo Bowl football action, between the Utes and the Texas Longhorns, in San Antonio, Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2019.

Whoever winds up as the starting quarterback at the University of Utah, whether it be Charlie Brewer, Cameron Rising, or Ja’Quinden Jackson, there is some question right now as to who that person will throw to this fall.

The Utes are thin at wide receiver, a problem coach Kyle Whittingham has addressed numerous times in the last two months in the wake of Bryan Thompson and Samson Nacua transferring. Whittingham has made clear he will hit the NCAA Transfer Portal in the time between spring practice ending and fall camp beginning, so for now, wide receiver is a significant question mark for the program.

As far as pass-catching options go, that’s the bad news. The good news, though, is two-folded. One, Utah likes to utilize the tight end position. Two, there are no questions at Utah about tight ends like there are about wide receivers.

Two-time All-Pac-12 tight end Brant Kuithe is back as a junior. Another veteran pass-catching option returns in junior Cole Fotheringham, and still, there is a third legitimate option in junior Dalton Kincaid, an FCS All-American as a sophomore in 2019 at the University of San Diego.

“We have playmakers,” Kuithe said this week a Zoom call with reporters. “Dalton is doing well this spring and I think next year, it’s going to be a different story. He wasn’t involved much last year, and only getting five games, the play was a little erratic. Getting a full slate of games, I think the tight end group is going to be really solid.”

Whether or not Kincaid will be a legitimate playmaker at this level remains to be seen, but there is no doubt that is what Kuithe has been for Utah over his first three seasons.

As a junior during the COVID-impacted five-game season in 2020, Kuithe led Utah in receptions (25) and finished second in receiving yards (236), but did not have a touchdown catch after hauling in six during his breakout All-Pac-12 season in 2019.

For his career, Kuithe has 79 catches for 1,065 yards and seven touchdowns in 33 career games. By any measurement, the Katy, Texas, native is a huge part of Utah’s offense, and that does not figure to change in 2021 with what will presumably be a full 12-game regular-season.

“He’s an extremely-talented young man, he’s more of a hybrid than he is a tight end,” said Whittingham, who noted Kuithe hasn’t practiced much this spring while dealing with a “little ailment,” that is not expected to be a problem for fall camp. “He doesn’t have the prototypical tight end size, he’s more of an h-back, and actually played running back in high school, so that was his background when he got to the program.

“Extremely talented, catches the ball exceptionally well, runs great routes, elusive in the open field as you’ve seen many times over the last couple years, and he’s a big weapon for us.”

It should be noted that Kuithe considered entering the NFL draft, but like teammates Devin Lloyd and Nick Ford, opted for another season of college football. Kuithe on Tuesday echoed the same sentiments as Lloyd did when asked about his decision to return.

Playing a five-game season in 2020 left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth, but the fact the Utes have not been able to break through and win a Pac-12 championship has also weighed heavily on the players.

Kuithe, Lloyd and Ford were all contributors, if not starters, on Utah teams that won the Pac-12 South and advanced to the Pac-12 championship game in both 2018 and 2019.

“I had a decent season, but I sat there and thought about winning three games (in 2020), or however many, doesn’t really matter,” Kuithe said. “We haven’t won a Pac-12 championship. We’ve been there, but we’ve fallen short of it. We came here to win that.”

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