SALT LAKE CITY — It's been three months since Utah football head coach Kyle Whittingham has addressed the media. As he took the mic at the opening of the first day of spring camp Monday, the need to find a new starting quarterback was at the forefront of his remarks.
It's no surprise the quarterback position took the bulk of the attention as Utah's production in the receiving game was subpar, at best. The Utes failed to showcase a competent passing attack and relied heavily on the run game to get itself to a 3-2 record in a delayed and shortened season.
But 2021 has the makings of a renewed outlook and even a sense of normalcy — if not for the sake of having an actual spring camp a year after the world shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The questions about the offense from fall, though, remain.
Cameron Rising, who was named the starting quarterback going into the 2020 season, will not be available for spring. After sustaining a season-ending injury to his shoulder in the first game of the season, he's left recovery from surgery until at least summer. That leaves the competition wide open in his absence.
In spring, the competition will come down to two transfer quarterbacks in Charlie Brewer (Baylor) and Ja'Quinden Jackson (Texas), and true freshman Peter Costelli, who skipped the last year of high school football to enroll early at Utah. Brewer is listed as the starter on the spring two-deep roster, but it's more of a speculative take than how things will actually shake out — at least initially with Brewer as the upperclassman in the room.
"Well, we typically just put a two-deep down unless there's a situation where two guys are on equal footing. But it's just a very raw, early speculation on what we know and how we're going in and what we feel is the pecking order right now," Whittingham said Monday. "That could change dramatically as guys start to take reps, and so really nothing to read into that other than we don't have any guys coming back other than Cam, but he won't be participating."
Although Whittingham said the position won't be finalized until fall, he said the team has gotten a "good start" on where it needs to be to figure out its starter for when Utah takes on Weber State in the season opener in September. In the meantime, Rising will be actively participating from the sideline and welcomes the added competition to the QB room.
"I mean, personally, I love it," Rising said. "Competition drives me; it's the reason I play football, the reason I love football, because you're always continuing to try and get better. And having a great quarterback room is only going to drive me to be better and drive these guys to be better, so that's how I'm taking it."
We have ourselves a spring depth chart. Charlie Brewer listed as starter at QB right now for spring. pic.twitter.com/Z8f226dYYa— Josh Furlong (@JFurKSL) March 15, 2021
Changes at wide receiver
In fall, the wide receiver corps looked to be one of the deepest and talented in recent history. But after a lackluster passing season, two receivers — Bryan Thompson and Samson Nacua — opted to the transfer portal, and the Utes let go wide receiver coach in Guy Holliday. Whittingham addressed the need to improve the depth in the room and the reason why he brought in a former graduate assistant in Chad Bumphis to lead the position group.
"Well, we just felt that to take the position group to the next level and be able to have them continue to progress and develop — it's not against coach Holliday, love coach Holliday, he's a close friend — but we just felt like maybe a new face, a new voice in that room would be something that could be positive," Whittingham said.
"We do need to add to that group. We did lose a couple guys in the portal and we're planning on adding guys to the position group, and that would be most likely not until summertime, or at least close to that point; not in the immediate future. We're going to continue to look and find the right fits for the additions. That's the direction we'll go."
As for Bumphis, who was last with the program in 2018, Whittingham said he "fit" what the team wanted in a new coach.
"He just seemed like a guy that already knew our system, he already knew what we're all about, how we run things, how we operate," he said. "And he seems to be a really good fit. He was very popular among the players when he was here back in '18."
Utah recently moved freshman cornerback Caine Savage over to play at wide receiver. In high school, Savage set a single-season record in Orange County, California, in receptions (24), receiving yards (2,103), and touchdown receptions (32), so the move seemed to benefit a depleted room, at least for now.
Whittingham said the move may be permanent depending on how he does in spring, but he'll play wherever he has the greatest upside.
Moving on from the loss of Ty Jordan
It's been three months since the tragic death of freshman running back Ty Jordan, and the football program is still healing from the loss of a talented player and someone that lit up the room. His production will be hard to replace, but his personality around the locker room and his interactions with everyone will be most missed, Whittingham said.
"It was obviously as painful as anything I've been through as a football coach," Whittingham said. "There's not a day that goes by that I don't think about Ty. As far as his memory, we have some things in house here to honor Ty and keep him in the forefront of our minds. We definitely miss — not only as a football player, his personality and his charisma, the way he lit up a room is the thing I'm going to miss the most.
"He was such a dynamic person and I personally miss him every day."
And while the sting of his loss will not be easy to overcome, Utah still has to find a new starting running back. Micah Bernard, who split reps with Jordan last season, will be looked to as a favorite to take over the starting spot. But he'll be joined by transfer running backs Chris Curry (LSU) and T.J. Pledger (Oklahoma). The position group will add more depth in the fall when 2021 signee Ricky Parks joins the program.