SALT LAKE CITY — Utah football is in full swing as it continues week two of fall camp, and players are already getting “bumps and bruises” that are “mounting,” according to coach Kyle Whittingham.
Following a required acclimation period by the NCAA, the Utes are in full pads for the remainder of camp. And while that helps the program simulate live work, it also lends itself to injuries. Whittingham said a few players are missing time due to minor injuries, but that there was “nothing major” as of now.
With that said, Utah has lost another player to a season-ending injury. Sophomore Moroni Anae, a backup linebacker, sustained an ankle injury during camp and is out for the remainder of the season. Utah still has good depth at the linebacker position, though, as Anae was not expected to factor into the rotation.
Regardless of injury, though, the team is “on pace” and will go ahead with its first scrimmage of the season on Saturday. The scrimmage, which will be closed to the public and media, will give the coaches an opportunity to “gauge where we’re at” as there are still position groups in need of settling.
One such position group in flux is the offensive line. Whittingham had previously named a starting five to this point of the season on Monday but added Wednesday that there are still some battles in place for starting time. Most notably, sophomore Orlando Umana is making a push for the starting left guard position over redshirt freshman Nick Ford.
“It is a battle,” Whittingham said. “That's a good battle right now. Umana is definitely in the top six.”
As has been mentioned throughout camp, Utah is looking for seven or eight guys that can be used in the offensive line rotation. Other guys looking to get time in the rotation are junior Paul Toala, freshman Braeden Daniels, and Johnny Capra. Daniels has “surprised everybody” and has “really progressed,” according to Whittingham. In the three months since joining the program, Whittingham said he’s gained 30 pounds and is pushing for playing time.
Toala, too, is making a push for some playing time at the center spot. Starting center Lo Falemaka could potentially move outside to allow Toala at center, Whittingham said. He added that it will be a continued battle as Utah looks to find the best five guys to play up front.
New kicking rules causing confusion
When asked whether the team has a handle on the new kicking rules — a fair catch anywhere inside the 25-yard line instantly goes to the 25-yard line — Whittingham summed it up by saying: “A little bit, but still no — not completely. It's gonna be interesting and I'm very interested to see how other teams handle it this year.”
The debate comes into whether the team should spend a lot of time on special teams drills in practice, Whittingham said, or if they could just line up seven receivers in the backfield and fair catch anything inside the 25-yard line. But squib kicks, he added, can throw a wrinkle into the system.
“So the answer is no; it's a work in progress. We're practicing a lot of different scenarios right now.”
Lou Groza winner part deux?
OK, we’ve all come to know that placekicker Matt Gay is pretty talented. He can kick the deep ball and has given Utah great range to get some mostly guaranteed points. It’s the reason Gay won the Lou Groza award at the conclusion of the 2017 season. But could there be an encore?
If at all possible, Gay may be more accurate than last season and have an even bigger range. At Pac-12 media day, Whittingham bragged about Gay’s ability to make 60-yard field goals, but it has never been seen in public in a live setting. Many kickers can make it from that distance when no one is lined up, but to do it with defenders coming at them is another thing.
On Wednesday, Utah lined up Gay in a real-life scenario to kick a 60 yarder. And boy did he deliver. The ball was straight, it had the distance — in fact, he had probably 5 yards more to back up — and it was good. See for yourself.
Although a kick like that in a game setting is unlikely to be seen, Whittingham didn’t rule it out as an option.
“I would say it would largely be based on conditions. If he's got a little breeze to his back or if it's perfect conditions, you're more likely to do it than if it's wet or snowy. There's a lot that factors into it.”
NOTES: Bryant Pirtle got a lot of playing time Wednesday, and Whittingham said he “loves what he’s doing so far.” He added that he still has a steep learning curve, but he’s “got the size, the speed, the strength, the instincts, and we're going to just keep feeding him reps and see how quickly we can bring him along.”