Cam Rising hasn’t had an easy time since arriving at the University of Utah as a transfer from the University of Texas in Jan. 2019.
After taking a redshirt with the Longhorns in 2018, Rising took another redshirt in 2019 with the Utes after failing to gain immediate eligibility from the NCAA. The Ventura, Calif. native outlasted Jake Bentley to become the Utah starter in 2020, but was lost for the season to a right shoulder injury on the 14th offensive snap of the season-opener.
Now, Rising finds himself with nothing guaranteed, engaged in another quarterback competition, this time with Baylor graduate transfer Charlie Brewer. Rising’s place on the depth chart is to be determined as this month unfolds, but the fact he is involved in a quarterback competition should be construed as good news.
It not only means Rising is healthy, but it means Whittingham believes he can win the job. If Rising was not healthy, or if Whittingham didn’t believe Rising could be his starter, he might save himself and others a lot of time and hand the responsibility to Brewer, but that’s not what is happening. Instead, here we are, with the most-important position on the field up for grabs for a perceived Pac-12 South contender.
“He looked great today, looked like his old self,” Whittingham said. “I detected no lack of arm strength. He said he felt great.”
Before Wednesday, Whittingham had noted that while Rising was 100% healthy and cleared by the Utes medical staff, he “may not have 100% of his arm strength back,” but the expectation was he would by the time camp opened, which was apparently the case.
“I’m happy, happy to be back out there with the team, it feels good for sure,” Rising said Wednesday. “Every day, you’re just going in to compete, and you’re trying to make sure you’re as good as you can be for the team. That’s how it is. We’re competing with each other for that No. 1 spot, but it’s all about the team at the end of the day.”
As far as Utah quarterbacks go, much of the offseason attention from the outside has zeroed in on Brewer, who threw for 9,700 yards and 65 touchdowns in four seasons at Baylor, and has landed on preseason watchlists for the Davey O’Brien and Maxwell Awards without so much as taking a snap.
Brewer has the pedigree, has the experience, has had the entire spring and summer to build a rapport with his teammates and offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig, but none of that matters now that practice started.
If Brewer is to be the starter, he will have to earn it over these next few weeks, because Rising is healthy now and has already won the job once. What is stopping Rising from winning it again?
“I think great football teams have competition everywhere, and that’s the makeup of a championship football team, having competition everywhere,” Brewer said. “You just have to go out and compete. Worry about yourself, do as well as you can, and keep improving each day.”
Whittingham offered nothing substantial Wednesday in terms of a timetable to name his starter, but has said previously he would prefer to get it done on the earlier side of camp if possible. An Aug. 14 live scrimmage inside Rice-Eccles Stadium might be a good marker to begin considering.
Maxs Tupai not with Utes, will not play in 2021
As camp began on Wednesday, Whittingham shed some light on the fact that senior Maxs Tupai, a projected starter at one defensive end spot, is not on the roster.
“It doesn’t look like Maxs will be with us this year, and that’s unfortunate,” Whittingham said. “We’ll miss him, but he won’t be with us as far as playing for us.”
Whittingham indicated he expected Tupai to not be with the team this fall, going as far as to say he had an inclination for some time that Tupai would not be present.
In 2020, Tupai played in all five games, starting four, finishing with six total tackles and two forced fumbles.
With Tupai out of the equation, attention turns to a pair of freshmen, Van Fillinger (five games in 2020) and Xavier Carlton (four games in 2020), as options to start at that vacant defensive end spot, opposite All-Pac-12 junior Miak Tafua.
“They are,” Whittingham said when asked if Fillinger and Carlton were ready to take a step forward. “They had good experience last year and even though they are true freshmen on the roster, they’re not true freshmen experience-wise.”
Aside from Fillinger and Carlton, redshirt freshman Miki Suguturaga will be in the depth chart mix, with the fifth and six spots at the position to be determined.
Utes vaccination rate above 90%
After Whittingham told The Salt Lake Tribune at Pac-12 media day on July 27 that his program’s vaccination rate is past 80%, with 90% in sight, he offered on Wednesday that the program rate is at 92% among the players currently in camp.
Of 117 players in camp, Whittingham said nine are not vaccinated, which equates to just above 92% that are. Of those nine not vaccinated, Whittingham’s expectation is that two or three of those guys getting the vaccination, which would get Utah to just over 95% vaccinated.
For what it’s worth, an athletic department official told The Tribune at Pac-12 media day that Whittingham’s entire coaching staff is vaccinated.