Five Thoughts From Day One Of Utah Spring Football
SALT LAKE CITY – A lot of excitement has surrounded the Utah Football program on Tuesday when the team began their first of 15 spring practices.
Heavy expectations has been put on this Utah football team as they get ramped up for spring ball and this is where the player development is a critical part of the process.
After talking to coaches and players on Tuesday, here are five thoughts from the first day of spring football practice for the Utes.
#1 Backup QB Battle Is Wide Open
When Cam Rising was the starting quarterback, Ja’Quinden Jackson was the backup for the rest of the regular season and the Pac-12 Championship, at least according to the depth chart. When Rising went out with a concussion in the Rose Bowl Game, walk-on Bryson Barnes came in and made some great plays as the backup.
With the additions of Nate Johnson and Brandon Rose from the 2022 recruiting class, along with Jackson and Barnes returning from last year’s team, Utah has a solid backup quarterback battle on their hands. Whittingham said they want to try to identify the second and third string signal callers sooner rather than later.
“We want to develop them,” Whittingham said. “Ideally, we’d come out with a one, two and a three. We’ll see if that happens. If it doesn’t, we’ve got plenty of time to continue to identify that number two and three guy but the sooner it’s identified, the better because then you can sink reps into the guys that you know are going to be on the depth chart.”
On paper, it looks like the second and third string spots will go to Jackson and Barnes but Whittingham said it’s a wide open battle.
“It is, it’s wide open,” Whittingham said. “Ja’Quinden Jackson has really improved his game since the fall. He’s worked hard in the offseason. He looked really good today. If there was a, you talk about standouts, he’d definitely be one of them today and has elevated his play.”
#2 Clean Slate For Utah Running Backs In Spring Football
Two changes occurred during the off-season in the running back room. T.J. Pledger left for the NFL Draft and Quinton Ganther replaced Kiel McDondald as the running backs coach. Despite Tavion Thomas being the favorite to be the starter after a tremendous 2021 season, Ganther isn’t close to naming a starter.
“Right now, it’s a new season, so I have a nobody,” Ganther said. “That’s what it is. Nobody has done anything yet. What you did last year does not count. You will be judged on the product that you put on the field this year.”
Micah Bernard, Jaylon Glover and Ricky Parks are also options at running back.
#3 Business As Usual Despite Preseason Hype
Utah wasn’t picked to win the Pac-12 South in the 2021 preseason media poll but they took the college football world by storm after winning their first Pac-12 Championship. With most of the starters from the Rose Bowl team returning in 2022, the hype is around Utah and they won’t be taking the college football landscape by storm.
“We know we are the champions, coming back, we’re not going to sneak up on anybody,” said Whittingham. “There’s a lot of good teams in the south. So we just got to go about our business like we usually do. But, we don’t have that under the radar feel this year, at least I don’t sense that.”
#4 Offensive Line Is Deep With Young And Experienced Players
The offensive line was a big issue early last season. Most of that was due to injuries in fall camp that eliminated the opportunity for the starters to create chemistry on the line before the season started. After the San Diego State loss, the line improved each week and ended up being one of the best position groups on the team.
With Nick Ford and Bam Olaseni gone, the Utes will have to find players to fill those roles but they have plenty of options to do so.
“We do get a lot of good young offensive linemen in the program,” stated Whittingham. “We did lose our left tackle Bam Olaseni and Nick Ford, who’s played such good football for us for those four years, but we do have a lot of talent. Depth is solid along the offensive line and that’s what we’re coached to do is develop that talent and I’m sure Jim Harding will do a great job of that.”
#5 Jaylon Glover Looked Good In First Practice
Many fans are excited about four-star running back Jaylon Glover and how he will perform in spring football. Some think that Glover could emerge as a potential option at running back. He showed some good things in practice on Tuesday.
“Did some good things today, put one ball on the ground but, made some good cuts,” said Whittingham. “He’s a north-south guy and he’s a guy that has a great feel for running the football instinctively, he’s just got an ability to find those creases.”
Ganther had a different approach to Glover’s first day with the Utes.
“He looks like a freshman,” Ganther said. “He’s done nothing. So that’s how it looks. We’re both swimming. We learned a lot of new things and he’s coming in to where he’s used to being the guy and being a man and he has to learn and learn how to not put the ball on the ground.”
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