Utah TE Brant Kuithe still hasn’t gotten the green light to return

Despite his position coach saying on the first day of fall camp that the team would have to rein him in as he ramped up to playing in the opener vs. Florida, coaches clarified Monday that he remains “day to day.”

(Meg Oliphant | Special to The Tribune) Brant Kuithe of the Utah Utes participates in warmups before the game against the Penn State Nittany Lions at Rose Bowl Stadium on Jan. 2, 2023 in Pasadena, Calif.

When the Utah football team’s fall camp opened on July 31, tight ends coach Freddie Whittingham was talking about having to hold Brant Kuithe back a bit, to keep him from doing too much in his imminent return from an ACL tear suffered last Sept. 24.

With just over a week to go before the Utes’ season opener against Florida, however, Kuithe still has not been cleared for action.

During an interview last week at the Spence and Cleone Eccles Football Center, Whittingham noted that the sixth-year offensive star’s availability is not up to him.

“That is something that’s more between the training staff and the rehabilitation people and him than with me. I’m eager to get him back as soon as they say he’s ready to go,” he said. “A good thing about him is that he knows the offense, he knows what we’ve been doing here the last four years, and I feel like as soon as he’s physically able to perform and go, he’ll be able to plug right in. So I’m just waiting for that green light from our training staff.”

Then on Monday, head coach Kyle Whittingham said that Kuithe is still “day to day,” and that the coaching staff “just get[s] an update every morning and we see where he’s at.”

It’s a far cry from what Kuithe’s position coach was saying about him just three weeks ago.

Freddie Whittingham conceded then that since Kuithe went down in the first quarter vs. Arizona State, he hadn’t seen the tight end run a 40-yard dash, or perform a pro shuttle, or go out on routes because he’d been rehabbing throughout the summer. But the coach did say that he’d seen tremendous physical progress from the star tight end.

He also suggested it was his expectation that Kuithe would be taking part in practice later that day, and that the coaches would have to rein in his exuberance a bit lest he overdo it and experience a setback.

“Well, it starts today, right? Taking the reps. We don’t want to push him too much; it’s a balance between getting him to do as much as he can while making sure that his knee stays healthy, and we eliminate the soreness and things like that,” Freddie Whittingham said then. “So it’s just day by day, working closely with the training staff — ‘What can he do?’ — and also with him, because he’s gonna want to do more than sometimes he maybe should do. Because he busts his tail in practice, part of his track record here is being a great practice player. And so, there might be times where I have to taper him back a little bit.

“… We’ll just be smart about the reps that he takes.”

He also pointed out that Kuithe was “bigger, noticeably bigger,” later adding that the tight end had “put on 10 pounds of good weight” and would probably be playing around 230 pounds this season. He said that when reporters got to interview Kuithe, they’d be able to see the extra bulk.

Kuithe has not yet been made available to the media, as he hasn’t been medically cleared to fully participate.

Kyle Whittingham, speaking several hours after that initial availability with the assistant coaches on the first day of camp, walked back the idea that Kuithe was far enough along that he’d have to be restrained from practicing too hard.

In fact, he added, Kuithe had not actually participated in that day’s practice.

“He’s not cleared yet by any means, as far as [being] 100%,” Kyle Whittingham said then. “He was able to do a few things, [but the first day of fall camp] was predominantly weight stuff. But as soon as he’s ready, as soon as they give us the green light, we’ll start to work him in.”

They’re still waiting on that green light.

Which is not to suggest that Kuithe has suffered a setback, or is behind schedule in his recovery. ACL tears typically require 10 to 12 months of recovery and rehab, and the tight end remains within that range.

Still, there can be no doubt that his position coach seemed to expect to have him in the game against the Gators.

“The key for me is to get him healthy for the first game, so that he feels confident that he could perform at the same level that he was performing before he had his knee surgically repaired,” Freddie Whittingham said. “An ACL is not an easy injury to come back from, there’s a ton of rehabilitation that takes place. And once they get physically to the point where they can do it, then mentally they’ve got to develop the confidence that they can keep doing what they were doing before.”

That theoretically could still happen vs. Florida, but the clock is ticking.