Kyle Whittingham does not do hyperbole.
When the University of Utah’s 18th-year head coach meets the media, unless it’s an injury question, he will make an honest effort more times than not to answer you straight, regardless if it’s a positive topic or a negative topic. Whittingham will not give away the farm to the beat reporters, but he’ll usually give you what you asked for.
Not long after the first practice of camp ended on Wednesday afternoon, Whittingham began fielding questions. It didn’t take long for the topic to swing to Cam Rising.
The specific question centered around the incumbent fifth-year quarterback’s leadership style and why it inspires confidence in his teammates.
“He’s one of the hardest workers on the football team, if not the hardest,” Whittingham said. “You can talk about it, but you have to be about it. His performance is outstanding, his film study, everything. There is no weakness in Cam Rising right now. He’s doing everything right coming off an outstanding year, and we’re fortunate to have him on our team.”
Take the “no weakness in Cam Rising right now” part of that quote, then remember what I said at the top about Whittingham.
Why do I think this is a big deal? Two reasons. One, that is a clear indication of what Whittingham thinks of the player manning the most important position on the field. Whittingham has supreme confidence in Rising, and why shouldn’t he after last season’s run to the Rose Bowl?
Two, as far as I can tell, Whittingham has never spoken so highly of a quarterback in the preseason. I went through some archives, I asked a couple of fellow media members, I asked a handful of hardcore fans that consume all things Utes.
Not Tyler Huntley, not Brian Johnson, not Travis Wilson, or anyone else in between. I distinctly remember Whittingham speaking very highly of Charlie Brewer during and after spring practice last year, but Wednesday’s soundbite felt like something different.
This Utah football season is going to open against more than one backdrop, with more than one overarching storyline to consider ahead of the Sept. 3 opener at the University of Florida.
Here’s one to consider: Cam Rising was so efficient, so good, became such a program leader last season, that his head coach can’t find anything negative to nitpick on.
What can he do for an encore?
Other things on my mind
• I alluded to this in the mailbag earlier this week, but it’s worth repeating after Whittingham said Wednesday he would like to see the passing attack go downfield more. A key matchup vs. Florida is going to be Devaughn Vele and Solomon Enis vs. Gators cornerbacks Jason Marshall Jr. and Avery Helm. Marshall especially bears watching. A true sophomore and former five-star recruit out of Miami, he is being projected as a potential first-round pick in 2024.
• I have often been asked what I think the biggest positional question is for this Utah team. Wednesday was the first day of practice, which the media didn’t get to view, and we’ve had one interview session. In relation to the offense, my answer has not changed in seven months. It’s wide receiver, where it’s Vele, Enis, and a slew of questions, from freshman Tao Johnson working out of the slot this month, to how big of a role junior college transfer Tiquan Gilmore might see, to the four or five other legitimate options in between. Vele, who was 23-389-1 last season, will continue to get a lot of attention as he steps into the WR1 role for the first time.
• Under-the-radar storyline as camp unfolds: Who is the third tight end? That may seem minute, but Utah ran “13″ personnel a ton last season, which means one running back and three tight ends, so yes, figuring out TE3 is among the list of priorities this month for Whittingham, offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig, and tight ends coach Freddie Whittingham. Wide receiver-turned-tight end Munir McClain and fifth-year Australian junior Thomas Yassmin are among the options. The room has also been fortified via the NCAA Transfer Portal with Syracuse transfer Landon Morris and Idaho transfer Logan Kendall, who Utah is listing as a TE/FB.