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SALT LAKE CITY — With three weeks to go before the University of Utah kicks off its season against North Dakota, the program is no closer to naming a starting quarterback.
Incumbent starter Troy Williams remains in a locked battle with Tyler Huntley, as the top signal caller has each attempted to separate from the other. In a scrimmage-like setting Wednesday, head coach Kyle Whittingham said the quarterbacks were live, meaning they could be tackled, in an attempt to see how they handle different situations.
“It’s a necessity to try to get some separation. It’s so close,” Whittingham said. “To get your true evaluation, your absolute best evaluation, you do it live and then you can see the escapability, who can extend plays and make plays, and the QB-run game and who is more effective in that. That gives you the absolute best evaluation, but it’s also the riskiest.”
On Thursday, the quarterbacks continued to split reps, including Cooper Bateman, but no separation has become apparent to the coaching staff. Offensive coordinator Troy Taylor said he’s not trying to “dodge” the naming of a starter, but that one needs to naturally emerge as a consistent playmaker.
Asked if he had a tentative timetable to name a starter, Taylor said there is no such date — maybe the first game on Aug. 31.
“It goes back and forth,” Taylor said. “They’re all really close. In some ways, I wish there was more separation to make it easier. But in other ways, I feel like there are three guys that I think we win with any of them.”
Taylor said he’s not necessarily ruling out the idea of a two-quarterback system, but that it’s not always an ideal role. Whittingham said he’s opposed to the idea in practice, but if that’s what needs to happen to gain some separation, then that’s what’s got to happen.
“I’m not a fan of it, just generally speaking. It seldom is real effective,” Whittingham said. “But we’ve got to see separation and if we don’t see separation, maybe they both play early until there is separation. We’ve got to come away with the right guy. The most important thing is we come away with the right guy. If there is never separation and you’re playing two guys all season long, we’ll just have to see what happens. But that’s not ideal.”
Wide receivers health
Several wide receivers have been banged up over the duration of the camp. It’s causing some concern for the coaching staff who is trying to balance getting guys reps while limiting injury concerns. Both Whittingham and Taylor call the situation “frustrating” but that it’s not much they can control.
“It’s always a concern of how you’re going to balance that in terms of how much workload you want to give them,” Taylor said. “They’ve got to know the assignments, but you don’t want to run them into the ground. The rest of the team has to practice, too. People are counting on those guys to give them looks, so it’s a challenge.”
On Tuesday, Whittingham said he was looking to get approximately 10 guys that could consistently play minutes as a receiver; however, due to minor injuries, the team may enter the season with fewer than that.
Despite some injuries, Whittingham said Darren Carrington, Raelon Singleton, Demari Simpkins and Sampson Nacua have been some of the standouts at the receiver position group. Whittingham added that Nacua has been one of the “more pleasant surprises” of camp and is “one of the most improved players.”
Taylor added that Nacua is an “incredible football player” and has “incredible ball skills.”
“He’s got a really good feel for space, incredible in traffic and a fierce competitor,” Taylor said. “He’s more difficult to tackle than you would think. But in general, just a great football player.”
Offensive line work
The offensive line continues to shuffle around a bit as the coaching staff attempts to find a combo of five guys that fit the system best. However, Whittingham said there has been less combination work recently and things are being “whittled down,” but that it’s not completely set.
Whittingham said Jackson Barton remains a constant fixture at left tackle, with Darrin Paulo moving around to several different spots. However, Paulo has been trying out right tackle to see if Salesi Uhatafe can remain a constant fixture at right guard. Whittingham said Uhatafe at guard would “be ideal” but that “we’ve got to have someone that can hold down the fort at right tackle.”
At center, Whittingham added that there is a bit of a “silver lining” in the Lo Falamaka injury as Jonny Capra and Paul Toala are getting more reps and making progress.
“We’re just trying to get the best five out there and in the right spots,” Whittingham said. “We are getting it whittled down and there’s less combinations going on, but we’re still not completely set.”
Notes: Whittingham said the team is still waiting to hear on the status of Tareke Lewis and Derrick Vickers, who are working to get eligible. “It’s a little more dim than it was three or four days ago,” Whittingham said, while adding that it’s about 50/50 on whether they’ll be here before the semester starts. Should Lewis miss his eligibility date, Whittingham said they’ll use this season as his redshirt. ... Former receiver Kenric Young remains a permanent fixture at corner. Whittingham said he plays with a lot of instinct. On Thursday, Young picked off Troy Williams.