Depth At Offensive Line, Cornerbacks Is Strong For Utes
SALT LAKE CITY- The Utes might have some of the strongest depth they’ve ever had in the Pac-12 era. Running back, linebacker, and tight end get talked about a lot in that regard, however, according to position coaches Jim Harding (offensive line) and Sharrieff Shah (cornerbacks) their rooms should be in the “strong depth” discussion too. Both men talked about their rooms with the media via Zoom Monday afternoon and both feel good about the useable depth they have heading into a big 2022 season.
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Right now coach Harding says he has eight guys he feels really good about after last Saturday’s scrimmage. He also knows the pressure is on to get things squared away with his group quick so they aren’t doing so much gelling in-season, but are ready to go game one.
“I understand my guys didn’t perform the way they should have early in the year and I accept that,” Harding said. “I have learned from that and we are certainly more conscientious of making decisions and rolling with it early on in camp.”
Harding didn’t go into too much depth as far as who he is planning on as his starting five, but he did talk about a few guys that have been working hard and standing out through spring and fall camps. Paul Maile, Johnny Maea, Falcon Kaumatule and Jaren Kump were all mentioned as part of the eight players Harding feels good about as the Utes round the corner to September 3rd.
“The scrimmage this past Saturday showed us a lot,” Harding said. “Certainly the evaluation is not all-encompassing of that scrimmage, but I feel confident with eight players that we could line up with on September 3rd. Some of those guys have varying levels of experience so you’re not exactly sure how they will respond in the environment we’ll be in, however, in terms of their skill set, their ability level, and my comfort with them, I think we have eight guys and I would say those eight guys are the ones we’ll roll with. Barring any injuries those are who we are using.”
On the other side of the ball, coach Shah is feeling equally as good about his room. Last season the cornerbacks were decimated by injury by the end of the season. The great news in those situations is a lot of guys got playing time that wouldn’t have otherwise that will make them better in 2022, the bad news of course was the growing pains breaking new people in through last year. Shah is planning on using last season’s misfortune to his and his player’s advantage.
“You have to be absolutely transparent when you have a collection of ballplayers and kids who are now returning to the room with experience,” Shah said of managing his depth. “Kids you are going to rely on heavily like Clark [Phillips III], JaTravis [Broughton]- we don’t win the championship last year without Faybian Marks or Zemaiah Vaughn, Malone Mataele. We don’t win and those players comeback now with renewed sense of confidence and accomplishment. In 2018 and 2019 I was able to rotate quite a few ballplayers and I told them in the beginning of fall camp that no one was going to play 70 plays a game. I’m not going to run anybody into the ground because if we can stay fresh, and still be productive and everybody eats we’ll be a phenomenal unit.”
Stronger Than Yesterday
The 2022 Utes get talked about a lot in terms of what they bring back, but perhaps one of the less talked about aspects of what could push this team to new heights is the story of what they lost. While it’s a new year and the team has figured out how to move on in a lot of ways, there still isn’t a day that goes by that teammates Ty Jordan and Aaron Lowe aren’t on their minds and a part of what they do to get “22% Better”. Coach Shah talked about what a balancing act it was last season to push through, but still be sensitive to the pain everyone was feeling. It was a far more difficult situation than most understand, but in the long run has made Utah a stronger, better team in all phases of the game.
“You never know what you are able to withstand until it is right upon you,” Shah said. “I never thought that I would be able to get some of my young kids to play through the level of pain they went through. I didn’t know if I could respond that way. You are able to do so much more than you think you can and the kids will respond in the exact same manner. It’s more than anything I’ve ever seen, what you put your mind to, you can absolutely do. We had to set aside so much time and time again throughout the season.”
“What folks don’t understand is that we had some success, but it almost felt heavier,” Shah continued. “Like you didn’t want to mess it up. We wanted to do a good job for the folks that we lost and you can start to press too hard. It was trying to reign back the emotion, sometimes control your emotion, but it was achievable. Even though it felt in the moment insurmountable, it was absolutely achievable. You can do hard things. I tell my own children they’re tough as nails. I say it to my football players, they are tough as nails mentally and physically. Despite what it may look like, it’s ok. We can get through it, not just get through it, we can really thrive and excel.”
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