It's always good when Utah enters a season more experienced on offense. That means the Utes have a chance to be great.
Despite returning just four starters on defense, Utah typically is always stout on that side of the ball, thanks to the presence of head coach Kyle Whittingham. His units always play well, no matter the losses from the previous season.
The question for the Utes as they now set their sights on fall camp for 2010 is whether they have enough firepower on offense and defense to contend with TCU for a Mountain West Conference championship.
Whittingham, now in his sixth year with the Utes, offers only the positive but vague comments about his team -- based on its play during the spring.
"We are much further ahead offensively than we were a year ago," Whittingham told the Salt Lake Tribune. "We should be; it's the second year with these quarterbacks, and the offensive line has a lot of experience. I'm pleased with where we are, but we have a long way to go. Defensively, we have a bunch of no-name guys flying around. There are no standouts, but they work hard every day and work well together."
The Utes will need a big season from sophomore quarterback Jordan Wynn, who gave Utah fans a scare when he sprained his shoulder diving for a fumble in the spring game. His injury was not serious, and his play shows his competitive nature that the coaching staff likes.
Utah started assembling playmakers around Wynn in the offseason, but his success in 2010 will become more predictable when RBs Matt Asiata and Eddie Wide are in full swing in the fall. Asiata was held out of spring ball as he recovers from his torn anterior cruciate ligament, and the coaches limited Wide's workload for precautionary reasons.
The Utes are inexperienced at linebacker and in the secondary. But as long as the veteran line plays up to expectation, it should keep the unit competing at a high level. James Aiono, the No. 1 rated junior college prospect in the nation in 2009, will join the line this season to give it more depth.
Utah had to deal with adversity early in the offseason, losing projected starting middle linebacker Nai Fotu to a torn ACL. If a silver lining is to be found, it's that the injury happened in the first week of spring practice, and the Utes will have ample time coming up with a backup plan. Junior J.J. Williams has stepped into the role; Utah simply needs to reach deeper into the roster for depth.NOTES, QUOTES
--RB Matt Asiata sat out for spring ball as he continues to recover from the ACL injury he suffered early in the 2009 season. The team also limited RB Eddie Wide for precautionary reasons. That allowed sophomore Sausan Shakerin to show the staff what he could do. Now, he may become part of the running backs rotation in the fall.
--Asiata's younger brother, Shawn, also is playing running back this season. Shawn Asiata, a transfer from Snow College, has an H-back's body, and the Utes still are trying to figure out where he'll provide the most help. They used him at running back in the spring to help with depth.
LB J.J. Williams -- With MLB Nai Fotu lost for the season with a torn ACL suffered early in spring practice, the Utes needed someone to step up and take charge of the linebacker corps, and it appears that Williams, junior rover linebacker, has done that. Williams helped the defense get on track after struggling early against offense. Williams, who came back from a mission last season, has made more plays as he's grown more comfortable with the defense.
QB Griff Robles -- The redshirt freshman competed well enough in the spring to earn some consideration to earn a package in the offense, like the now-transferred-to-Nevada Corbin Louks had a few years ago when he was brought into certain run situations.
DE Trevor Reilly - Reilly, a redshirt freshman, has emerged as a productive backup, playing both sides of the line. He broke up three passes during one of Utah's intrasquad scrimmages and has impressed throughout the offseason. He seized the opportunity of Junior Fonua's foot injury to make the most of his playing time.
SS Justin Taplin-Ross -- The senior has solidified his starting spot in the secondary with his performance in the spring. Coach Kyle Whittingham singled him out at safety, and his quick development will help the Utes recover from losing Robert Johnson to graduation.
WR Griffin McNabb - The 5-foot-8, 168-pound walk-on, had an impressive offseason, capped by a five-reception, 100-yard effort in Utah's spring game. McNabb, a redshirt freshman, put himself in contention for a lot of playing time in the fall.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We have great confidence in all three of those guys. They all have different skill sets. So we'll have to find different ways to play them. They're all good football players, and that's a very fortunate situation for us to be in." -- Utah quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson, on trying to find ways to get signal-callers Jordan Wynn, Terrance Cain and Griff Robles all on the field in 2010, to the Deseret Morning News.STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
2010 OUTLOOK: The Utes' strength early in the 2010 season could come on offense, where eight starters return, not including running back Matt Asiata. The expectations on QB Jordan Wynn have gone up, based on his 337-yard passing effort against California in the Poinsettia Bowl last season. The defense, which returns just four starters and must replace its entire linebacker corps, will be good in time. Its learning curve will be under time constraints, however, because Utah's season opener at home against Pittsburgh. The Utes will be tested down the stretch as they take on Air Force, TCU, Notre Dame and Brigham Young in the last five games of the season.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Asiata, 1,000-yard rusher Eddie Wide and sophomore Sausan Shakerin give the Utes a strong nucleus for a consistent running game. Other than senior Jereme Brooks, Utah is somewhat inexperienced at wide receiver and may rely on TEs Kendrick Moeai and Brad Clifford more in the passing game. The line loses just one starter, but Zane Beadles will be hard to replace at left tackle. If the line can become dominant, the offense might be able to score in bunches on a weekly basis.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The Utes should be strong on the line, returning three of the units four starters at that position. Plus, Utah finally will have the services of DT James Aiono, who was considered the top JC prospect in the nation in 2009. He missed the season because of academics. Losing Nai Fotu to a torn ACL in the spring was especially distressing to a corps that does not return a starter, but at least it gives Utah enough time to develop other players at middle linebacker. CB Brandon Burton and SS Justin Taplin-Ross will bring some stability to the secondary. If the unit can come together quickly, it might help the Utes contend for a third trip to a BCS game.
SCOUTING THE SPECIAL TEAMS: P Sean Sellwood and K Joe Phillips both return from productive 2009 seasons, so the Utes should continue to be strong in the kicking game. Returners David Reed and John Peel, however, will be difficult to replace. PR Griffin McNabb and KR DeVonte Christopher have speed but must display the same knack for returns as Reed and Peel had.
--MLB Nai Fotu, whom the Utes had moved from DE and was projected to be a big part of the 2010 defense, tore his ACL in the first week of spring practice and will miss 2010.
--Senior Neil A'asa is on the move again. He came to Utah as a defensive lineman, moved to the offensive line and then to tight end. Now, he's back at defensive tackle and had a strong spring, which will put him in the mix on the line and make the Utes even deeper on the defensive front.
--Sophomore DT Joape Pela underwent knee surgery during spring and is out indefinitely.
--Redshirt freshman DT Latu Heimuli continues to have foot problems, undergoing another surgery, and is out indefinitely.
Previous Report: 04/28/2010