Fifteen spring practices at the University of Utah are in the books following the Red team defeating the Black team, 21-0, in the spring game on Saturday afternoon at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
Players are on their own until June 1 when the summer conditioning program begins, at which time the Sept. 2 season-opener at Weber State will start to come into more focus, but for now, what exactly did we learn about the Utes during spring practice?
That is a tough question given the only public viewing window for the media and fans alike this spring came on Saturday, but here’s a crack at trying to answer it anyway.
Kyle Whittingham believes this is going to be a complete team
This was the overarching message from the Utah head coach following Saturday’s 73-play live scrimmage. Whittingham believes his team is going to be good.
Furthermore, Whittingham doesn’t believe his team has too many, if any, glaring question marks, which is a great place to be coming out of spring ball.
Utah’s defense, specifically, has the ability to be imposing, if not dominant on some days. It’s a veteran defensive line, a mostly-veteran linebacker corps., and a secondary that was young in 2020, but outperformed all reasonable expectations.
There is a lot to like about Utah going into the summer, and Whittingham isn’t shying away from optimism. Here are some takeaways:
Charlie Brewer appears as advertised
Whittingham spent spring ball heaping considerable praise on the Baylor graduate transfer quarterback. Saturday was the reason why.
Brewer looked comfortable and in control in completing all 15 of his pass attempts for 151 yards and two touchdowns. This being a spring game, the play-calling was pretty vanilla, but no matter. Brewer looked the part Saturday as the scene will soon shift to fall camp, where Brewer and Cameron Rising will battle it to be the starter, assuming Rising’s surgically-repaired right shoulder allows it.
Based on what Whittingham has said about Brewer this spring, and how Brewer looked Saturday, it is starting to feel like Rising is going to have an uphill climb.
The running back position is in good shape
Utah has plenty of options at a position where it generally makes hay each fall.
Oklahoma transfer TJ Pledger’s quasi-debut in a Utah uniform yielded six carries for 31 yards, while Chris Curry’s debut also showed flashes as the LSU transfer went for 44 yards on six carries. Redshirt freshman Micah Bernard only had two carries, but that hardly matters.
If the season started today, Bernard is probably the No. 1 guy. At worst, it’s going to be a by-committee approach, which means Bernard is going to get touches anyway. Four-star freshman Ricky Parks arriving this summer will only add to the depth.
Running back is rarely, if ever a position of concern at Utah, and that concern is not going to start now.
Devaughn Vele emerged, but Utah needs more wide receiver help
By all indications, freshman wide receiver Devaughn Vele had a productive spring, capped by four catches for 66 yards on Saturday. His optimistic play adds depth at a position Utah could really use some after Bryan Thompson and Samson Nacua transferred in February.
Vele emerged, Money Parks is in the mix, and Caine Savage may stay at that position after shifting over from cornerback, but Whittingham has made no bones about the fact he plans to hit the NCAA Transfer Portal for some help.
For the sake of arguing, let’s say Vele is WR4, with Parks and/or Savage getting depth-chart reps. Objectively, that simply isn’t enough experience at the position. Whittingham is absolutely justified in thinking he needs more help, and that’s with the tight end position being a focal point of the passing attack.
What the transfer portal can offer at this juncture in terms of Power Five-level receiving help should be interesting.
Ja’Quinden Jackson could see short-yardage, wildcat packages
The Texas transfer has not been ruled out of the quarterback competition, but there hasn’t been much from Whittingham to suggest that Jackson can wind up with the job.
Still, Jackson is an imposing figure at 6-foot-2, 230 pounds, with the ability to tuck the ball away and make something happen with his legs. The possibility of Jackson seeing short-yardage or wildcat situations exists, but remains to be seen.
Bottom line, it’s going to be hard to keep Jackson off the field in some form or fashion, even if he’s not the starting quarterback.