Red All Over: Is Ute wide receiver Devaughn Vele set to break out?

The wideout had four catches for 66 yards in Utah’s spring game, drawing praise from Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham

(Forrest Gmitro | University of Utah Athletics) University of Utah's Devaughn Vele lines up to run a play at a recent practice.

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At one point, as University of Utah wide receiver Britain Covey made his way through Radio Row at Pac-12 media day last week in Los Angeles, the topic turned to redshirt freshman wideout Devaughn Vele.

Covey’s assessment of the former walk-on was partially rooted in the fact that Vele will perform well in practice, but he has had trouble transferring that into games.

With Utah fall camp starting to unfold this week, Vele finds himself in an advantageous position. The Utes have depth questions at wide receiver beyond Covey, Solomon Enis and Jaylen Dixon. Kyle Whittingham gave every indication during spring practice that Vele can step in and grab at least the No. 4 spot, which would get him on the field consistently, but it’s up to him to finally break through.

“Going into a game is really hard when you haven’t performed at a certain level in a game and you go into a Pac-12 atmosphere, it really is a challenge,” Covey said later in the afternoon at Pac-12 media day. “I think there is a mental-toughness side that people don’t focus on enough. There’s something that you have to carry over, and I feel like I’ve had that. I had to have that my whole life because I was small, being under-recruited, so I’m trying to help Vele develop that.

“When he goes out there, he needs to have no doubt he’s an All-Pac-12 receiver. We’ll see what happens, but he knows that, which is a good thing. He recognizes that part.”

Self-awareness about what one lacks and what one needs to improve upon is an important part of the equation, and Vele has that.

Vele had a good offseason, garnering unsolicited praise from Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham in the final days of spring ball. In the spring game on April 17, his four catches for 66 yards, including a 40-yard first-half completion from Charlie Brewer, stood out as tangible progress.

In speaking to the media following the spring game, Vele noted that “the lights were a little too bright for me” in 2020.

Fair enough. Maybe the moment was too big for Vele nine months ago, but from that now comes opportunity with the Utes in need of dependable receivers. It’s up to him to finally figure it all out and put all the pieces together.

“It really helped me see things I’ve improved on, and also things I still need to work on,” Vele said of the confidence gained from the spring game. “I give a lot of credit to the quarterbacks and the linemen, because those guys are giving me the ability to shine. Everything is a team effort.”

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What’s on my mind, Utah or otherwise

• The loss of defensive end Maxs Tupai is not ideal. But it’s not crippling either. I’m basing that on the fact Kyle Whittingham has pumped up freshmen Xavier Carlton and Van Fillinger for a while now. One of those two guys will wind up starting at DE, opposite Mika Tafua. It’s just a matter of which one.

• Per Whittingham, 92% of his roster is vaccinated, with that number potentially getting to 95% shortly. We are very unlikely to know who is or isn’t vaccinated, but consider this. I have to think the players being allowed to speak to the media are vaccinated. If they weren’t vaccinated, they would either not be made available, or would be wearing masks. That said, Cam Rising, Charlie Brewer, Britain Covey, Chris Curry, Nick Ford and Devaughn Vele were among the players to speak to the media on Wednesday. None of them were wearing masks.

• There was in-person football media availability on Wednesday for the first time since March 5, 2020. It felt right, it felt normal, it felt awkward, and yeah, it felt a little wrong, even irresponsible, with cases shooting back up in our fair state. I don’t know, man. Get vaccinated. Be smart about it.

• I’ve never seen Cam Rising in a bad mood or at least not smiling when doing interviews. Credit to him, because he’s had a rough go of things since arriving at Utah in Jan. 2019. A redshirt, a season-ending shoulder injury, now two quarterback competitions, and he’s still smiling and upbeat. I dig it.

• Britain Covey noted at Pac-12 media day that Utah is generally in “11” personnel, which means three wide receivers. Ideally, he continued, the Utes would like 6-8 guys in the position room competing for a starting job, with no dropoff between the first and second units. To that, I ponder whether or not Utah has that. Covey, Jaylen Dixon, Solomon Enis, Vele if he breaks through, Oklahoma transfer Theo Howard if he is healthy and producing. That’s five. From there, you would need young, inexperienced guys to take steps forward. USC transfer Munir McClain, a sophomore, comes to mind first, as does freshman Money Parks. Eight might be tough, but it’s Aug. 4. Settle in.

Your questions

Q: “As a Utah fan, the realignment news makes me both nervous and sad. Clearly, changes are coming for college football. Those changes are great for the 20-25 power programs across the country, but for programs not in that tier like Utah, Oklahoma State, etc., it’s worrisome. Agree?” -- @OuterDarknezz

A: I don’t think you’re up to worrying about a European Super League-type of situation for a very long time, if at all. But if that were to ever happen in college athletics, yeah, I think Utah, for a variety of reasons, would have something to worry about in terms of the haves and the have-nots across the country.

That said, at this point, I maintain my stance that I think the Pac-12 is better off doing absolutely nothing right now. The league is solid with its 12. George Kliavkoff is talking to Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby about some things. That’s fine, and it’s good to have at least one ally as the new guy in the room, but there is no reason to grab Big 12 teams. There is even less reason to reach down to the Group of Five. Makes no sense at all.

Q: “At what heat or sun duration does one need to put pride aside and pack an umbrella?” -- @StaircaseWhitt

A: You will never see me with an umbrella in the sun, I’m not pretentious enough to pull that move. Furthermore, get some culture. It’s called a parasol, you heathen.

The only place an umbrella belongs when it’s sunny out is the beach, and there ain’t no beaches in Utah, so save the umbrellas for the rain.

Q: “Pizza, wedge or square-cut pieces?” -- @SmithSarvis

A: What are we talking about here? Neapolitan-American, aka New York-style, vs. Sicilian/Detroit-style/Grandma-style?

Give me the New York-style all day, but Sicilian is a delight if it’s done well. A nice corner Sicilian slice, crispy on the bottom, pillowy on top? Maybe pair it with a nice American lager outside on a nice sunny day? Hello, goodbye and good night.