SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Sports) – While the Pac-12 Conference may be in turmoil, the two-time defending champs are turning their attention to the field.
The Utes will try to become the first team in the Pac-12 era to win three consecutive championships, and as they kicked off training camp Monday afternoon, there is no question where the most concern is.
“Outside of quarterback, the biggest focus would be quarterback,” Whittingham said. “And then quarterback again. I can’t think of anything that’s even close to that.”
After suffering a torn ACL in the Rose Bowl, Cam Rising is back practicing, but he will be limited for a while, hoping to get to 100 percent by the season opener.
“He’s practicing, but he’ll have limitations,” Whittingham said. “That will pretty much be the report for at least a couple of weeks. Hopefully some of those limitations start to get lifted as we get deeper into camp. But today was a good start.”
Bryson Barnes, Brandon Rose and Nate Johnson will all battle it out for the backup job. Whittingham said Rose has a slight advantage going into camp.
Tight end Brant Kuithe is also back with the team after a torn ACL last season. DeVaughn Vele leads the receiving corps, along with Florida State transfer Mycah Pittman and Indiana transfer Emery Simmons.
The Utes offensive line has two preseason All-Pac-12 players in Keaton Bills and Sataoa Laumaea.
What area of the team is Whittingham most excited about?
“I would say the defense overall at every level,” he said. “We’re talented, we’re deep. The front is physical and athletics. The linebackers are active and tough. The secondary, we’ve got a bunch of ball-hawks back there, and we’ve got some really good tacklers at the safety spot.”
With some of the top quarterbacks in the nation residing in the Pac-12, the normally stout Utah defense will definitely be tested.
“This is without a doubt the best talent the Pac-12 has ever had, particularly at the quarterback position,” said Utes defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley. “We’ve got our hands full, and we need to play well defensively.”
The Utes lost star defensive back Clark Phillips to the NFL, but they feel they have enough talent and depth in the secondary, led by Cole Bishop, JT Broughton and Ole Miss transfer Miles Battle to still be very good.
“I don’t know if you replace that level of production, specifically from Clark,” said cornerbacks coach Sharrieff Shah. “You don’t replace that. You just have kids recognize this is what I can bring to the table.”
After making the transition from quarterback to running back in the middle of last season, Ja’Quinden Jackson is back in his first full year at running back. But he won’t be the only one carrying the load, as Jaylon Glover, Micah Bernard also return with plenty explosiveness and experience.
“He’s got all the skillset and physical tools that you look for in a running back,” Whittingham said about Jackson. “We all know what he did last year. He was a saving grace in the run game for us last year.”
“Jaylon Glover has stood out, Charlie Vincent has stood out, JJ has stood out, Micah [Bernard] has stood out,” said running backs coach Quinton Ganther. “We also have three freshmen that got here, and shoot, these older guys better be careful.”
With Colorado leaving the Pac-12 next year, and with speculation that schools like Arizona, Arizona State and possibly Utah leaving next, there has been a lot of questions as to what will happen to the conference. Whittingham says it almost inevitable that college football will eventually become three or four super conferences.
“That thought has been trending that way for ten years,” Whittingham said. “That was my impression and my opinion. Each year, we take another step towards that. The timetable, who knows? Three years, five years, seven years, but I think that is the direction things are headed.”
Utah kicks off the 2023 season August 31 at home against Florida.