Jeremiah Poutasi was an honorable mention all-Pac-12 Conference right tackle as a true freshman. This year, he moves to the left side.
June 6, 2013
We take a look at the 2013 Utah Football team with part one of the season outlook, featuring a breakdown of the offense. The outlook will continue on Monday, June 10, with a look at the defense and special teams.
Kyle Whittingham has set numerous "firsts" since becoming Utah's head football coach in 2005, but he hopes his first season without a bowl game proves his last. Whittingham, who is 7-1 in postseason play and 2-0 in BCS bowls, took immediate steps to get Utah back on the postseason path after a premature end to the 2012 season.
Not only did Utah sign a promising recruiting class, Whittingham signed one of football's most prominent coaches in the offseason. Dennis Erickson, who compiled a 179-96-1 record in 23 seasons as a head college coach and won two national championships at Miami, will work alongside Brian Johnson as the co-offensive coordinator.
Utah is now the only school in the country with two National Coach of the Year recipients on its staff (Whittingham in 2008 and Erickson in 2000). In addition to his co-coordinator role, Erickson will coach the running backs. In other staff moves, second-year assistant Ilaisa Tuiaki takes over the defensive line and ninth-year special teams' coordinator Jay Hill will manage the tight ends.
Known for his high octane offenses, Erickson's arrival marks a return to the spread offense for the Utes. "We've gravitated back to a more traditional spread scheme," says Whittingham, referring to a move away from the multiple offense of the past few seasons. "We've added some new elements, done some streamlining and simplified things. We need to improve dramatically on offense from last year and we've worked hard in the offseason to get that done."
The building offers panoramic views of the surrounding mountains, downtown Salt Lake City and the U of U campus, two new practice fields (one natural grass and one FieldTurf), the Spence Eccles Field House and Rice-Eccles Stadium, where the Utes have sold out every game for the past three seasons.
While it won't undergo a renovation like the offense and practice facility, the nationally-ranked defense is also evolving.
"While we still consider the 4-3 our base defense, each year that goes by we find ourselves spending more and more time in our 4-2-nickel package to adjust to the trend toward spread offenses," says Whittingham. "We now have a specialized, full-time nickel back. Last year, for the first time ever, we were in the nickel more often than our base 4-3."
Here's a look at the 2013 Utes by position:
Strength: Offensive line
Top Priority: The passing game
Even after losing three senior starters, Whittingham calls the offensive line "the deepest group we've had in years." The Utes go two deep in 300-pounders whose quickness and agility belies their size.
At a position where the Utes boast three former All-Americans on active NFL rosters, they may have another in the making in 6'5", 345-pound sophomore tackle Jeremiah Poutasi. Poutasi, an honorable mention all-Pac-12 Conference right tackle as a true freshman, has moved over to the left side where he can make the biggest impact.
"Left tackle is the most demanding position on the offensive line," says Whittingham. "Jeremiah practiced there all spring and did a great job. He is a legitimate honors candidate."
Junior college transfer Andrew Albers (6-7, 310) was closing the gap at right tackle on sophomore Siaosi Aiono (6-2, 305) by the end of his first spring camp. Along with another talented youngster, redshirt freshman Isaac Asiata (6-4, 315), this could develop into one of the most hotly-contested positions on the team.
Asiata is also a contender at guard, where Jeremiah Toefaeono (6-2, 320, Sr.) hopes to reclaim the starting post he held on the left side before suffering a season-ending injury, and 2011 JC All-American Junior Salt (6-2, 325, Jr.) looks to debut at right guard after initially being targeted to play on the defensive line.
Vyncent Jones (6-3, 305, Sr.), Toefaeono's replacement last season, will remain in the starting lineup as the center.
Carlos Lozano, Percy Taumoelau, Hiva Lutui and Derek Tuimauga are also in the thick of things from tackle to tackle. Young and deep, Utah recruited just one offensive lineman for 2013--Texas prep star Salesi Uhatafe (Trinity HS).
All of Utah's five scholarship quarterbacks have experience in running a spread offense, although only one--6'6", 240-pound sophomore Travis Wilson--has experience running it in a college game.
Thrown into the fire a year ago as a true freshman, Wilson played in every game--first as a wildcat substitute and then as the starter for the last seven games. He threw for 1,311 yards and seven touchdowns (completing nearly 63-percent of his pass attempts), and also showed he could tuck the ball and run. Wilson's size, skill set and command of the offense makes him the favorite to start again in 2013.
Even so, Wilson couldn't shake his competition in the spring when he shared the reps with sophomore Adam Schulz and true freshman Brandon Cox. In August, freshmen Connor Manning and Micah Thomas will add to the mix.
"There should be great competition in the fall at the quarterback position. Travis Wilson comes in as the starter, but everyone will get a chance to show what they can do. As a whole, this is the most talented group of quarterbacks that we've had here in many years," says Whittingham. "Much like the offensive line, the depth of this group has dramatically improved."
Schulz, initially a walk-on, earned a scholarship and a place on the depth chart last season, appearing briefly in one game and completing both pass attempts for 52 yards. He had much more opportunity in spring camp to show off his strong arm, quick release and pinpoint passing.
Cox, an early enrollee out of Pasadena High School in Pasadena, Calif., also impressed in the spring after missing most of his senior year with an injury. Cox led the league in passing as a junior (2,697 yards and 26 touchdowns) and ranked fourth in rushing (562 yards and eight touchdowns).
Manning, from Lake Forest, Calif. (El Toro HS), broke Matt Barkley's Orange County record for single-season passing yards (4,219). For his career, he threw for 9,449 yards and 88 touchdowns. Thomas, from North Shore High School in Houston, Texas, passed for 849 yards and six touchdowns and rushed for 734 yards (7.98 average) and 10 touchdowns in 2012.
Utah may need a platoon to replace graduated school-record holder John White, who rushed for over 1,000 yards in both 2011 and 2012. Fortunately, it looks like Erickson found four players to fill the platoon in the spring.
Senior Kelvin York, Utah's second-leading rusher as a JC transfer in 2012, finished with 60 carries for 273 yards (4.6 average) and three touchdowns. A powerful downhill runner, York was the prohibitive favorite to replace White before missing part of spring camp with a toe injury. In York's absence, James Poole, Lucky Radley and Karl Williams all took aim at the job.
"All four played well in spring and it may end up being a running back by committee situation, with Kelvin having the edge," says Whittingham, adding, "we're also bringing in four recruits we're very high on."
Those would be JC transfer Devontae Booker and freshmen Troy McCormick, Marcus Williams and Dre'Vian Young. Young brings blazing speed. He was the Texas 5A 400 meter champion and his 46.80 time was the fourth-best in the nation by a prep in 2013.
The Utes did not have a single receiver ranked in the league's top 25 in receiving yards in 2012--a reflection of their inadequate passing game. Dres Anderson and Kenneth Scott ranked first and third on the team in receptions, yet combined, they caught fewer passes (68) than seven Pac-12 receivers did alone.
"We expect more out of our receivers this year and Dres Anderson and Kenneth Scott are emerging as our go-to guys," says Whittingham. "We also anticipate that (JC transfer) Andre Lewis will contribute right away."
All three have tantalizing potential. Anderson runs a 4.40 40, and both Scott and four-star recruit Lewis are big (6'3") and athletic. In fact, there is size throughout the receiving corps with 6'2" Quinton Pedroza, 6'4" Anthony Denham, 6'3" Brian Allen and 6'3" Sean Fitzgerald all expecting to see action.
If defenses try to clamp down on Utah's wideouts this season, the tight ends will make them pay. "Based on what we saw in spring, we expect our tight ends to play a big role in our offense this fall," says Whittingham. "They will line up in a multitude of locations."
While Murphy ranked second on the team a year ago with 33 receptions in an honorable mention all-conference season, he and Tonga could both surpass that number in 2013.
"You'll see both Jake and Wes on the field at the same time frequently this fall," says Whittingham.
With the offense moving toward more involvement from the tight ends, the Utes invested in the future by signing freshman Harrison Handley and junior college transfer Greg Reese. Both participated in spring ball.