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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah concluded its fall camp Saturday with a light scrimmage and the announcement of a season-ending injury for corner Tyrone Smith.
Smith, a former wide receiver until making a shift to defense late last year, suffered an ankle injury and needed surgery to repair it, Kyle Whittingham said. Smith will redshirt this season and will have two years left to play at Utah. He had been off-and-on the field for much of fall camp due to lingering issues with injuries.
It’s the first season-ending injury for the Utes this season; however, Utah will have two starting players back in the rotation next week: center Lo Falemaka and safety Chase Hansen.
Falemaka had been at each practice this fall, but had been rehabbing on the sideline. His return will add much-needed experience to the offensive line. Hansen has yet to make an appearance at practices this fall, but will be eased into practices next week, Whittingham said. Hansen has two weeks to acclimate back to the starting role, but it’s unknown if he’ll be ready to go against North Dakota in approximately two weeks.
Depth chart taking shape
As part of the end of camp, Whittingham named starting roles for several key positions.
Although not all positions have been settled, namely starting quarterback, Whittingham has decided upon a starting offensive line group that includes Salesi Uhatafe (RT), Jordan Agasiva (RG), Lo Falemaka (C), Darrin Paulo (LG) and Jackson Barton (LT). The only question with the offensive line is whether Uhatafe moves inside to guard or outside at tackle.
At the linebacker position, Sunia Tauteoli and Kavika Luafatasga will get the starting role, with Cody Barton and Donavan Thompson as their backups. In the secondary, Julian Blackmon, Jaylon Johnson and Casey Hughes will get the nod at corner and nickel, with Chase Hansen and Corrion Ballard in the safety spots.
Whittingham and offensive coordinator Troy Taylor said the receiver group has five guys that will get starting roles. Neither Taylor or Whittingham gave specifics as to who those players were; however, Taylor said earlier in the week that including Darren Carrington II, Raelon Singleton, Demari Simpkins, Siaosi Wilson and Sampson Nacua were among the top players.
Nacua was banged up in practice earlier this week, but is expected to be 100 percent, Whittingham said. Utah is looking to get three more players in the receiver rotation, but a battle remains for those spots.
The only position group without a named starter is quarterback. Whittingham said the plan is to name a starter Monday when Utah starts its regular-season practices.
Confidence in the offense
Despite no starter being named at the quarterback position, Taylor and Whittingham said the offense had one of its best days of fall camp Saturday.
“It’s like a different team,” Taylor said, speaking about the transition the offense has made since spring. “They’ve got an understanding of the system and what we’re trying to achieve and the concepts. They’re not thinking as much or playing fast. They have confidence and they expect to score. The mentality is better and their understanding is better. It’s all good.”
Whittingham said he’s been pleased with the changes of the offense this year, but that he’s been most pleased with the team’s execution level.
“There are 999 different offenses — execution is what it boils down to,” he said. “I’m really pleased with the execution. As we’ve gone through camp it’s gotten better and better.”
Taylor said the quarterbacks, regardless of starter, have made significant progress and are “making very few mistakes.”
“They’re wired in and they’re all ready to play,” he added.
Whittingham said he likes the “simplification of the passing game for the quarterbacks” and the overall structure Taylor has brought to the team.
“I love it,” Whittingham said. “Quarterback is a tough position to play on the field, but (Taylor's system) is very quarterback friendly. I like the using of the field itself — creating space and spreading the field. I like the run game, but the run game is not dramatically different than what we’ve had in the past. There’s some things that Troy brought in there that are positives.”
Notes: Whittingham said Derrick Vickers will not be joining the team. He added that his future with the program “is a big question mark” as of now. … Mitch Wishnowsky is working to add more traditional punts into the mix, Whittingham said. His hang time has improved and wants to shift from his 70-30 split of punting to a more balanced approach. … The placekickers continue to be locked up, but Whittingham said both have improved. It’s just a matter of find separation between the two of them.