Five Storylines To Watch As Utah Prepares For Spring Ball

Mar 14, 2023, 8:30 AM | Updated: 8:43 am

SALT LAKE CITY – We are one week out from the Utes opening up spring ball, which means it’s time to start dreaming about how spring and fall camps will play out.

Despite once again *mostly* returning the same team in 2023, there are several storylines to watch through Utah football’s spring ball and we picked what we feel are the top five.

The Utes return 18 starters in 2023 with seven on offense and 11 on defense. This in and of itself should bode well for a team that is on the hunt for their third consecutive Pac-12 Title in the coming football season.

Even with a majority of players returning, there are still some questions to be answered and exciting scenarios to watch as we inch ever closer to the start of the 2023 football season.

Figuring Out Life Without Cam Rising

It should be no surprise the quarterback room will be heavily examined throughout spring and fall camps. Utah is in a very unique position to begin preparing for life without star quarterback Cam Rising without him actually being gone.

To review. Rising announced his intent to return to the Utes for a sixth and final year of eligibility. That announcement was dampened a tad when Rising got hurt for the second time in the Rose Bowl game with what appeared to be a knee injury. Rising recently revealed he did in fact tear his ACL and had surgery to repair the damage.

With that said, Rising will not be participating in spring practices though Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham is on record as saying they expect Rising to be ready for fall camp. This is great news for a few reasons.

  1. Utah feels confident enough in Rising’s ability to recover from his ACL surgery to publicly put a fairly pinpointed date on his return barring any crazy setbacks of course.
  2. With Rising unable to physically participate during the spring, this opens up valuable reps for the guys behind him to develop and push for the number two spot.
  3. If managed correctly this could be a huge positive for the Utes in building quarterback depth not only for the 2023 season, but also in 2024 when they will have to figure out who the next man up as QB1 will ultimately be.

There is no doubt all eyes will be on Bryson Barnes, Nate Johnson, Brandon Rose, and Mac Howard and their progression through spring ball. Who earns the nod as QB2 and will that be a positive sign as to Utah’s heir apparent come 2024?

Who Replaces Clark Phillips III?

CPIII has been a major factor the past three seasons in Utah’s defense, earning a reputation for not being the guy opposing quarterbacks wanted to mess with. As an interception machine with a penchant for returning them for points, Phillips III was a major weapon in Utah’s defensive backfield and his production will be missed.

With that said, the Utes do have some promising returning talent to go along with some new faces in the 2023 signing class.

JT Broughton brings the most experience back as the guy who played alongside Phillips III and will have a bigger opportunity to be the guy at cornerback in 2023. The Utes also have Zemaiah Vaughn and Faybien Marks who have seen significant playing time as part of the rotation and due to some injuries in the past. Caine Savage and Kenzel Lawler are two guys with a lot of potential but have needed some time to develop while the Utes have also signed freshman CJ Blocker and Smith Snowden along with transfer Miles Battle.

Thomas Yassmin’s Continued Development

Utah’s tight end room was a little decimated by the end of 2022 with Brant Kuithe’s season ending injury against ASU and Dalton Kincaid being slowed up by a string of injuries he battled until he just couldn’t anymore.

While it was disappointing to end the season without the Utes’ two best weapons for TNT, it did allow fans to catch a glimpse of Thomas Yassmin who looks very promising. (That touchdown against USC in the Pac-12 Title Game was everything.)

With Kincaid off to the NFL, and Utah’s love for running 12 and 13 personnel, it seems very likely Yassmin could be a big factor in replacing that production alongside Kuithe.

The biggest knock against Yassmin who has displayed a nice mix of agility, athleticism, and power is consistency in making the big plays. For every USC touchdown it felt like there were two killer drops. Having a little more room to get reps might be just what Yassmin needs to become a much bigger part of what the Utes do offensively in 2023.

The New Kid In Town

Utah will have one new face in their coaching staff for 2023 after receivers coach Chad Bumphis returned to his alma mater to coach after two years with the Utes (three counting his time as a GA).

Alvis Whitted is the guy taking the reins of a group that was steadily getting better under Bumphis, but still had some strides to make in order to reach their full potential. Can Whitted get that last little bit out of them in his first year at Utah?

Whitted has a nice resume that consists of playing experience both in college and the NFL along with coaching experience at various levels of college football and the NFL. Basically, the guy literally knows from every angle what it takes to be successful as a wide receiver which will make it interesting to see how he coaches up the group in preparation for 2023.

Continuing Progress On The Defensive Line

The start of 2022 was rough for this group. Very, very rough. However, toward the middle of the season they started to turn things around and before anyone knew it, they were top of the conference by the end of the year.

Youth and perhaps some unreasonable expectations by those on the outside (slowly raises hand) as to where the group would pick up after showing flashes in 2021 feel like the biggest culprits, but Lewis Powell and Luther Elliss stuck with it and got the most out of their guys.

With athletes such as Junior Tafuna, Simote Pepa, Jonah Elliss, and Van Fillinger among others back, healthy and more experienced, this group has potential to be a menace out of the gate when Florida comes to visit.

Michelle Bodkin is the Utah Utes Insider for KSLsports.com and host of both the Crimson Corner Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and The Saturday Show (Saturday from 10 a.m.–12 p.m.) on The KSL Sports Zone. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram: @BodkinKSLsports





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Five Storylines To Watch As Utah Prepares For Spring Ball