For the Utah football team, it sure felt good to be back out on the field, despite the cold weather.
The team opened its first spring practice exactly the way it did last year — fundamental position drills, quick tempo and lots of trash talking between the offense and defense.
Throughout the first day, how quickly the ball was snapped did not take away from what the coaching staff was hoping to do. Trying to learn where players fit best and helping them understand what they are to do and where to go were the top priorities. Kyle Whittingham, entering his 10th year as the head coach, thought practice was a little sluggish but that it was a good start.
“It was about what we could expect,” Whittingham said. “A lot of energy, a lot of learning. Our timing is a little rough right now, and we got a lot to work on, but it was a good first day and a positive practice overall.”
Coming off their second consecutive losing season, the Utes come into spring ball hoping to find answers to many questions. With a new offensive coordinator in Dave Christensen as well as other additions to the staff, Whittingham is looking to find the solution to last season’s sputtering offense.
The first uncertainty to dismantle was the return of former starting quarterback Travis Wilson. Potentially career-ending damage to an intracranial artery was discovered in November, and Wilson waited for three months before he knew whether or not he could play again. He has been cleared to participate, though only in non-contact drills. This was more than just a sigh of relief for the 6-foot-7 junior.
“I was really happy to get out and play again,” Wilson said. “It was a little rusty today, but just happy and blessed to be back. I was not nervous at all. I am just happy and excited more than anything.”
Wilson threw a couple of interceptions to the defense in a scrimmage-like drill but otherwise looked poised and unafraid, breaking off a couple 10-yard scampers while running the read option. Wilson has not been completely cleared to play in full contact, but quarterbacks are typically off-limits when it comes to getting tackled.
While the return of Wilson was much anticipated, the rest of the Utes’ quarterback picture is somewhat fuzzy as camp begins. Depth at the position has been a major problem over the past few seasons, but a whopping six signal-callers participated in Tuesday’s practice.
Returning junior Adam Schulz, who started the last two games of 2013 in place of the injured Wilson, split time with him while working with the projected starters. Jason Thompson, a junior transfer from Wyoming, split reps with the backups along with redshirt sophomores Connor Manning, Micah Thomas and Brandon Cox.
Thomas spent a great deal of time at the wide receiver position but also had some chances to throw. Utah is expecting two more quarterbacks, sophomore Donovan Isom and Oklahoma transfer Kendal Thompson, in the summer.
Whittingham said having too many quarterbacks is a good problem to have.
“[Wilson] is the incumbent,” he said. “We got guys getting a good look this spring. There is a lot to be sorted out at that position. We got a decent start on it today, and every day is going to be evaluated and scrutinized. But we got to get some decisions made sooner rather than later to at least thin the herd out a little bit and decide who we are going to sink the reps into.”