As spring practices end, Utah’s offseason starts with the transfer portal

The portal will be open for the next 15 days. What does Utah want, and what does it need?

(Utah Athletics) Head coach Kyle Whittingham observes Utah football practice Tuesday, March 12, 2024.

Utah’s spring camp is over, which means the offseason is officially upon Kyle Whittingham and his staff.

The transfer portal opens on Tuesday, giving the Utes 15 days to make additional roster moves. Utah is prepared for attrition — bracing for “surprises,” as the coaching staff puts it — but it will also be in the market for several key positions.

Spring practice set the table for what the next few weeks will look like. Here are five tidbits that will shape the first leg of the offseason.

1. Rose’s thorny situation

After missing last season because of a knee injury, Cam Rising is back for a seventh year of college football. He didn’t expect to be here. Utah didn’t expect it, either.

But you know who else didn’t have it in the cards? Brandon Rose.

When Utah’s third-year quarterback committed in 2021, he figured now would be the year he could really compete to be Utah’s starter. Instead, he is sitting behind Rising and now in a quarterback battle to be a backup.

(Eli Rehmer | Utah Athletics) Quarterback Brandon Rose participates in Utah football fall practice in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Aug. 08, 2023.

Because the timing was thrown off, he is competing with true freshman Isaac Wilson for QB2. If Rose loses that job, it would be hard to see a path to him ever starting. And if Whittingham gave any hints as to who would win that Wilson-Rose battle, he leaned more toward the Corner Canyon product.

“Isaac looked really good today,” Whittingham said. “He is a talented kid. Handled the stage very well. He and Brandon will continue to battle into fall camp. But Isaac certainly took a big step forward today.”

Whittingham could also bring in a transfer portal quarterback behind Rising this year, too. Does that push Rose out?

Rose could have been the starter in 2023 when Rising went down, but his own injury sidelined him for the season. Is he now fighting for his Utah future?

2. Cameron Calhoun, a waiting game and a strength at corner

(Utah Athletic) Cornerback Cameron Calhoun competes in spring practice in April 2024. The Michigan transfer stood out for the Utes during camp.

Michigan transfer Cameron Calhoun was one of Utah’s best players in the spring game. It is a welcome sign after a sometimes frustrating spring.

Calhoun struggled with certain schemes. Cornerbacks coach Sharrieff Shah said Calhoun messed up the same coverage in practice until the final week.

“I’m like, ‘I’m just a bad coach,’ I got to figure this out,” Shah said, laughing. “I’m not coaching this correctly because there is no reason why he should be messing this up this many times, this late in the spring.”

But when it clicks for Calhoun, it looks good. He made a number of plays at corner and Whittingham said he stood out as Utah’s best defensive player during the spring game.

Calhoun’s physicality at the line of scrimmage is something Shah, and defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley, value heavily. Whereas a corner like Kenan Johnson has elite closing speed, Calhoun has a strong jab to knock a receiver off a route.

There are still quite a few players at the corner spot who are competing for time. Smith Snowden, Zemaiah Vaughn and Johnson are among them.

But Calhoun is one to watch going into fall camp — especially as he gets more time with the playbook. It is just a waiting game.

3. What type of transfer quarterback?

Back to the quarterbacks for a minute. It is still up in the air which type of quarterback Whittingham is looking for.

Presumably, Utah wants a player with experience. The reason Utah wants to get more depth in that room is because the two top backups (Wilson and Rose) have never played a snap of college football. Last year, Utah got caught without a quality backup and ended up going 8-5 when Rising was hurt. It seems fairly clear that Whittingham isn’t willing to let that happen again.

He could bring in a veteran quarterback who has one year of eligibility. Or he could look for a guy with more years left.

The one-year rental option would have to be the right fit. That quarterback would know he is going to sit behind Rising. But bringing in a guy with multiple years left could complicate the quarterback room in the future.

Whoever wins the Wilson-Rose battle is going to position himself to start in 2025. Now, there could be another quarterback to compete with next spring.

Offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig didn’t give much insight into what he is considering. All he said was he‘s thought about it, and they will likely pursue another quarterback.

“If the head coach wants to do that, that’s what we’ll do,” he said.

4. The line is in good shape

Whittingham thinks the strength of his team, at this point, is the offensive and defensive line.

That is significant — particularly on the offensive side — because the Utes lost two starters from a year ago. Ludwig said the offensive line has the most depth on the entire team.

He thought there could be eight or nine future starters in the offensive line room right now.

Of course, if there is a high-end starter on the offensive line in the portal, Utah could still look. But Ludwig made it clear: He is not adding transfers for depth.

5. Linebacker is still ... fine?

Baylor wide receiver Hal Presley (16) is tackled Utah linebacker Levani Damuni (3) in the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 9, 2023, in Waco, Texas. (AP Photo/Jerry Larson)

Utah’s spring ended with a potentially season-ending injury to Levani Damuni. At the linebacker spot, Damuni was as productive as it gets, logging nearly 90 tackles.

You’d think this is where Utah needs a high-end transfer. But Scalley isn’t ready to panic just yet.

Sione Fotu is going into his third year in the program. Trey Reynolds just came off a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints mission. Scalley thinks they can compete to fill that missing linebacker role.

“I don’t feel one bit we are down at the linebacker position,” he said. “... I hate losing Levani. That guy is a valuable member of this team. Leadership, playmaking ability. But very, very excited for Sione Fotu.”