Utah football: Utes offense showed progress throughout spring – Salt Lake Tribune

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After spring camp, the Utes felt they were closer to that goal.

Even without many first-string players, the Utes showed flashes of the offense they hope to have: A mix of run and pass, with at least five receivers catching passes of 20 yards or more.

Coach Kyle Whittingham often lamented during Utah’s 10-3 campaign in 2015 that he was looking for more explosive plays. Between Red and White on Saturday, there were quite a few, including long receptions by Repp, Saiosi Wilson, Tyrone Smith and Tyler Cooperwood. The White team, led by freshman quarterback Tyler Huntley, averaged 6.6 yards gained per play (compared with Utah’s season-long 5.1 ypp last year).

Underlining Utah’s need for more passing plays was how pedestrian the running game looked, even with backups manning the defensive front. The Utes totaled only 82 rushing yards between both teams — a reminder that personnel is also driving Utah’s need for balance on offense.

“If we’re going to be the type of football team we want to be this fall, [the receivers have] got to be a major player for us,” coach Kyle Whittingham said. “Devontae Booker is not here. We’ve got to be balanced. We can’t give the ball to a guy 30 times.”

It’s been a slow progression even to what the Spring Game offered. For the first two weeks of spring camp, the offense was pounded relentlessly by a deep and experienced defensive line. It was hard for observers to evaluate the quarterback battle based on 11-on-11 sessions, because it seemed Huntley, Brandon Cox and Troy Williams were often fleeing from would-be sackers.

But gradually, the scales evened out a little more, as blockers found some swagger and the quarterbacks began to sink more into Utah’s offense. Utah’s first two scrimmages proved to be a showcase for Cox, who was able to lead efficient drives down the field and score. Huntley showed his precociousness in the spring finale, putting on a show for the fans.

The receivers had drops, and they might’ve suffered more injuries than any other unit (although the group hopes to be fully healthy by fall). Still, Whittingham said over and over that he felt the receivers’ work ethic had improved under new coach Guy Holliday, and “they didn’t have a bad practice.”

While typically Utah’s defense losing more battles as spring went on might’ve been a concern, no one appears worried about it. All four starters on the front are experienced. The secondary has plenty of returning playmakers (although Dominique Hatfield and Chase Hansen are waiting to get healthy). The one area of concern, linebacker, has more depth coming this fall.

New defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley said not much has changed. Other than being the guy who organizes meetings, his new role feels somewhat familiar to the old one. And while there were three offensive touchdowns in the Spring Game this year, Scalley noted it took almost a whole half for the offense to score.

“I thought we made progress across the board,” he said. “I thought we became better tacklers, I thought we became smarter football players, and we added some toughness.”

As with many programs in the spring, the evaluation feels incomplete. Troy Williams’ injury midway through camp kept one of the leading quarterback contenders from getting fully evaluated. The battle will continue in the fall, and Huntley’s resounding final showing seems to portend that it will continue to be a three-way race.

Other position groups — secondary, linebacker, offensive line, tight end and receivers — will be substantially bolstered by new additions or players trying to get healthy. Much of what fans were able to see this spring will be dramatically different in fall with different personnel.

But the Utes could only show what they had this spring, and they came away with the conclusion that what they did have looked better by the end of the five-week session.