Heading into the final week of fall camp few questions abound for the University of Utah as it prepares for its final season in the Mountain West Conference.
Quarterback Jordan Wynn is the incumbent starter and with seniors Shaky Smithson and Jereme Brooks to throw to, things look better than ever, as far as the Utes passing game is concerned. Sophomore Luke Matthews has shored up the starting position when the team is in its Z package, three wide instead of the usual two. Competition at wide receiver will be interesting throughout, as no fewer than nine players vie for three starting spots.
Where things get complicated, however, is at tight end. Sophomore Kendrick Moeai and senior Brad Clifford are in a battle for the starting spot, while behind the two are a freshman (Westlee Tonga) and a sophomore (Dallin Rogers).
Another interesting scenario is taking shape at running back. Senior Eddie Wide is being pushed by senior Matt Asiata, who in his seventh year of eligibility has shed almost 25 pounds of playing weight to become the team’s feature back. (Speedy sophomore Sausan Shakerin is the third option.)
With Asiata’s injury history, the Utes’ coaching staff has to feel at least somewhat worried that the ex-Hunter High star’s knees will go out once again, leaving the Utes with fewer options. When Asiata went down with a torn ACL last year against Louisville, it was déjà vu all over again as he suffered a similar injury two years prior to the Louisville game, at Oregon State.
Whomever wins the starting job at running back will have huge holes to run through, as two seniors (OG Caleb Schlauderauff and C Zane Taylor) anchor the massive Utes’ offensive line. The tackles are also in good shape with two juniors. Highly touted JUCO transfer John Cullen will be on the left side of the line and Tony Bergstrom on the right. Tevita Stevens, a sophomore, looks to be winning the battle at right guard in what is a two-deep position.
On the defensive side of the ball, the front four is different than in years past on the Hill. Absolutely nobody has locked up the end positions, with senior Christian Cox narrowly leading junior Derrick Shelby at left and Junior Tui‘one ahead of junior James Aiono on right.
The tackles are more solidified, as junior Sealver Siliga and sophomore Dave Kruger–another of the famed Kruger brothers in Ute folklore–have theirs in check, it seems. Again, it’s another two-to-three deep position for the team, which is always helpful as the season goes on.
At linebacker, rover (junior J.J. Williams) and stud (senior Chad Manis) have been more of a find during fall camp. As has been the case for years at the U., converted offensive players have turned to and thrived at linebacker, dating back to Paul Kruger (a former QB). Manis can now make that claim. Middle linebacker is more of a question mark. Three players continue duking it out for the top spot. At the moment junior Matt Martinez is ahead of juniors Chaz Walker and Jamel King.
Folks are awfully excited about the Utes’ secondary, which features junior Brandon Burton and senior Lamar Chapman at corner. The safety positions (free and strong) are headed by senior Justin Taplin-Ross and freshman Brian Blechen.
Special teams has little drama as well, as senior kicker Joe Phillips is back, along with sophomore Sean Sellwood, who will handle punting and place kicker-holding duties. Shaky Smithson is the incumbent on punt returns and will lie up alongside sophomore DeVonte Christopher to return kicks.
Across the depth chart the Utes are two-to-three deep at every position, a necessity given its brutal opening day opponent, nationally ranked Pittsburgh on September 2. Combine that with a trip to Notre Dame to face the Golden Domers in November and it will certainly be a final Mountain West Conference season to remember before the Utes head to the Pac-12 Conference to face the likes of USC and Colorado year in and year out.