Utah football coach Kyle Whittingham shares the latest on Cam Rising’s torn ACL

Rising is rehabbing a torn left ACL, suffered in the third quarter of the Rose Bowl on Jan. 2

(Marcio Jose Sanchez | AP) Head coach Kyle Whittingham, left, watches as Utah quarterback Cameron Rising (7) is tended to by trainers during the second half in the Rose Bowl NCAA college football game against Penn State Monday, Jan. 2, 2023, in Pasadena, Calif.

Kyle Whittingham expects that the next time you see Cam Rising, he will be starting for the University of Utah in the season-opener vs. the University of Florida.

The Utes’ head coach has been steadfast in that belief in the weeks since Rising exited the Rose Bowl in the third quarter on Jan. 2 with what was later revealed to be a torn left ACL. The opener will be played on either Aug. 31 or Sept. 2, roughly nine months since the injury, which falls in line with what is the general recovery timeline.

Whittingham told The Salt Lake Tribune last week in a wide-ranging interview that Rising is on, if not ahead of schedule in his recovery, but there is another factor as far as the timeline goes that isn’t being talked about enough.

Is Rising going to be ready for fall camp? If yes, will he be there for all of it? Some of it? Either way, how much of camp does Rising need to participate in for Whittingham to be comfortable putting him out there against the Gators?

“To be ready for the opener, he has to get some reps in camp,” Whittingham told The Tribune. “Maybe not necessarily the onset of camp, but by midway through camp, so we’ll see how things progress. If he’s not ready until a few days before the game, it’s unlikely he would play in that game because he just wouldn’t be completely sharp in all other areas.”

Utah has not announced a start date for fall camp, but FBS programs can practice 25 times over 29 days leading up to the opener, which would put the Utes’ first practice on or about Aug. 2, eight months after the injury occurred.

In theory, Rising potentially not being ready for live reps until camp has already begun should not be a detriment because the sixth-year senior is beginning his fifth season working with offensive coordinator Ludwig. Rising knows the offense, is comfortable with what Ludwig wants, and can slide back into his position without concern of wholesale changes. Whittingham did indicate tweaks to the scheme were coming, but that’s to be expected as a new season begins to take shape.

Had Ludwig left for Notre Dame to become its offensive coordinator after interviewing in South Bend earlier this month, breaking in a new offensive coordinator with the starting quarterback shelved until the summer would have been a much more difficult task.

“That plays into it, which is why he wouldn’t need the entirety of fall camp to get ready to play, but still, he would need to get back in the groove and knock some of the rust off,” Whittingham said of Rising’s long-standing rapport with Ludwig. “There won’t be a learning curve. He knows the offense inside and out, and a proven commodity, but still, when you’re going to be away from the game for months on end, there’s a certain preparation you need to get yourself game-ready.”

In the days leading up to the Rose Bowl in late December, before the injury and before Rising had publicly revealed he intended to return in 2023, Ludwig was asked what a hypothetical post-Rising quarterback room would look like for spring practice. He painted a picture of an open competition between Bryson Barnes, Nate Johnson, and Brandon Rose.

Rising might be back, but all that means is figuring out Barnes vs. Johnson vs. Rose becomes vitally important this spring and, knowing how Whittingham has operated with quarterback competitions in the past, likely into the summer as well.

Figuring out the most viable option behind the most-important player on the roster is the No. 1 storyline entering spring practice, which is scheduled to begin March 21.

“If there is a silverlining to Cam not being able to participate in spring, it will be that those guys will get all the reps, not just the portion they would have gotten,” Whittingham said. “That will lend itself to an opportunity for us as coaches to get a great evaluation sorted out as far as 2, 3, and 4 at the end of spring ball.”

As far as Whittingham is concerned, Barnes, a fourth-year junior who has appeared in 11 games and attempted 57 career passes, is a known commodity, so the majority of the reps this spring will go to Johnson and Rose.

Rose ran the scout team for the final three-quarters of last season after Johnson was elevated to the active roster, which followed Ja’Quinden Jackson’s move to running back.

Johnson, a 10.4 100-meter sprinter at Clovis (Calif.) High School, made several cameos late last season, wowing with his athleticism and the fact that he looked comfortable in spite of his inexperience. He has only thrown one collegiate pass, which means he needs to leave no doubt in the minds of Whittingham and Ludwig if he’s going to leapfrog Barnes on the depth chart.

“Throwing the football, he’s got some work to do,” Whittingham said. “He’s got a strong arm, but he has to fine-tune his motion, his release, his read progression, and that’s what spring ball is for, to get that stuff honed in on and able to improve. His skill set is different from Brandon Rose, where Nate is a pure athlete, maybe the fastest guy on the team. He’s capable of playing many positions, whereas Brandon is a true quarterback, big arm, better mobility than we thought he had. He did a great job running the scout team for the defense and really showed marked improvement from week to week. They’re two different styles of quarterback, two different skill sets, but both productive and it’s going to be very interesting to see how these guys progress and compete during spring ball.”

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