New talent, depth chart shuffling, and the excitement and hope that comes along with a fresh start and a new season – Utah Utes Spring Football is one of my favorite times of the year. After watching the men in red battle full contact this morning, here are my thoughts on some key offensive players and emerging stars to watch for.
It is clear with Christensen’s new offense that despite the virtual elimination of the tight ends and the obvious pass spread alignment, he wants to put an emphasis on establishing a running game. A lot of the play calling today involved the running backs. Bubba Poole lined up to the right of the QB and Devontae Booker (the 2013 JC transfer who didn’t qualify academically last year) lined up on the left. Poole, the incumbent ball carrier, seemed to get stuffed up the middle each time he touched the ball. However, Booker was given the ball on sweep plays and appeared to gain around 8 yards per carry (at least). Kyle Whittingham has been really high on him this spring and it’s obvious why. Look to see this fresh talent get a lot of snaps this season.
Another emerging star in this position group is red shirt freshman Troy McCormick. He was heavily touted by the coaching staff last season and it was thought that they might run some pass plays to him out of the backfield or use him as a slot receiver but he ultimately red-shirted – a smart move for his eligibility during a unsalvageable season. Today, there were a couple of situations where he was given the ball out of the backfield and he followed his blocks so crisply that he emerged out of the secondary untouched ready to bolt for six. That kind of vision is something that I’m looking forward to seeing come this fall.
Kenneth Scott is back and his height was dearly missed. He was a force in most of the drills and looked good in the corners of the end zones. Another tall receiver that we did not see last year stood out to me today – 2013 JC transfer Andre Lewis. His height and weight are exactly the same as Kenneth Scott and his speed and hands were noticeable. Despite missing the first week of fall camp with a strained hamstring, I’m curious why he did not play last year when Scott went down. Perhaps Whittingham just wanted to save the cards in his hand for the 2014 season. Regardless I could see him trading snaps with Kenneth Scott and Dres Anderson to give the Utes some breathing room on the outside.
Despite being considered the incumbent, Travis Wilson did not look good today. His passes were either in the dirt or behind the mark and his overall body language was shaky. The only thing that is keeping him at the top spot is his ability to read the defense and make quick decisions (ironic considering the number of interceptions he threw last year). Brandon Cox had a few good zone read runs for big yards but nothing else spectacular. Conner Manning seemed to hold the ball too long too often to end up getting sacked. When he did get the ball out the passes seemed to be a little short.
The most impressive QB of the day is the one that will not be playing this year – Wyoming transfer Jason Thompson. His passes were smooth and accurate despite the wind. He was able to get some strength behind his throw and led the receivers well. Part of his impressive showing might have to do with his comfort with Dave Christensen, having played for him already. One thing is for sure though – if spring ball keeps going this way, the QB race will be wide open for Donovan Isom and Kendall Thompson during fall camp.