SALT LAKE CITY — If anything has characterized Utah’s offense this offseason, it’s been continuity.
From returning starters in quarterback Tyler Huntley and running back Zack Moss to a mostly returning offensive line and offensive coordinator Troy Taylor, this year’s Utes are enjoying carry-over in almost every area.
About the only position group on the offense undergoing some level of turnover has been wide receiver. There, the Utes lost both Darren Carrington II and Raelon Singleton, the duo that catalyzed the team’s passing game by combining for 164 targets, 106 receptions, 1,511 yards and 10 touchdowns last season.
Naturally, what has followed has been a simple, albeit important, question: what can be expected from the Utes’ pass-catchers this season?
The answer may surprise the Utah faithful. Maybe it’s just optimistic rhetoric born out of the offseason, but for their part, the Utes don’t appear to be sweating the losses of Carrington and Singleton.
“I just think the depth of the overall group is there,” Utah wide receivers coach Guy Holliday said of his current group. “I think we’re gonna be improved. We’ll probably be young, but I think we’ll be even more talented than last year.”
Though young (the current group only features three upperclassmen), the Utes, as currently constructed, return a crew that blends speed with size and vertical threats and horizontal ones, which, in theory, allows for attacking the full field.
With all that versatility and depth, perhaps the bigger question is distribution. For now, the majority of the Utes’ target share is expected to go to Siaosi Mariner, the junior wideout formally known as Siaosi Wilson, as well as Demari Simpkins, who Holliday says can play outside or inside and has a knowledge that “far exceeds most players” he’s coached.
Beyond that, Holliday and Taylor will look to reintroduce slot receiver Britain Covey—whose function is providing yards after short and intermediate catches—into the offense alongside his former Timpview High School teammate Samson Nacua—whose length marks him as a viable red zone weapon for Huntley.
Elsewhere, Texas Tech transfer Bronson Boyd and senior Jameson Field enjoyed solid spring camps, while the roles of Bryan Thompson and Jaylen Dixon are still to be defined.
“I think what’s gonna make us much better is the competition to get on the football field,” Holliday said.
For the Utes, the biggest challenge may not rest so much with personnel as much as the learning curve of the offense, now in its second year under Taylor. That steep curve, according to Holliday, encompasses everything from pre-snap splits and assignments to the sheer volume of the system and teaching kids the intricacies of attacking space in route-running.
“A route may turn into a curl that was a post or a take-off that was a hitch or a slant may settle down,” Holliday explained. “That within itself adds a new dynamic. We all think that kids know this, but really and truly, you’ve got to have a pretty good football IQ.
“They need to know safety location. They need to know what we talk about is the triangle—where the safety, linebacker and corner plays. … It’s not so much about coverage as it is every zone has an open window. You’ve got to understand what happens in rotations, when defenses rotate. So now that’s where the route may be altered. It’s real easy to look at on film and say, ‘Get this done.’ But what happens when all the parts are moving? That’s when it becomes more difficult.”
When asked what remains on the installation schedule heading into the summer months, Holliday joked, “I like to say this offense is like an amoeba, it grows everyday. … I don’t know, I would like to think that most of the installation, if not all, is in. But it’s a long time between now and summer camp. There’s a lot of football to be watched.”
Dillon Anderson is studying literary journalism as a student at the University of Utah. You can follow him on Twitter @DillonDanderson.
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