Utah begins spring practice with new players at key spots
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) Utah completed its first 10-win season as a member of the Pac-12 three months ago, but key members that led the transition from the Mountain West Conference are gone.
The Utes began spring practice on Tuesday with an offensive roster that looks drastically different at the skill positions.
Four-year starting quarterback Travis Wilson is gone. So is his backup Kendall Thompson. Devontae Booker, the third-leading rusher in school history, is expected to be selected in the NFL draft next month. The 2015 leading receiver, Britain Covey, has left for his Mormon mission and three-year starter Kenneth Scott exhausted his eligibility.
That's 87.9 percent of the total offense gone from 2015.
''There's a little different feel, but that's every year,'' Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. ''Transition is part of the college game. And every year you lose a group of seniors that you think, how are we going to do without these guys? But the next guy's up that cycles through the program and you just have guys that are ready to step up and take those leadership roles.
''The first few practices are a little weird.''
The Utes finished the season ranked No. 17 in the country and tied USC with the best record in the Pac-12 South Division. The Trojans owned the tiebreaker and played Stanford in the conference title game. Utah defeated BYU 35-28 in the Las Vegas Bowl.
Now there's a quarterback competition between Santa Monica College transfer Troy Williams and redshirt junior Brandon Cox. Highly regarded freshman quarterback Tyler Huntley will attempt to get into the mix by fall.
Joe Williams moved into the starting lineup when Booker was lost to injury last season and finished with 477 rushing yards and three touchdowns.
The six receivers listed on the spring depth chart combined for 30 receptions in 2015, including Cory Butler-Byrd, who started at cornerback last season.
Making things even more different is the schematic tweaks the Utes have implemented during the offseason. Whittingham said they're still a spread offense, but the quarterbacks will be under center much more than in the past.
''It's most definitely a different feel,'' Cox said. ''New faces, new people. This is the time to feel out who's going to make those big plays. You don't have those guys that you automatically know you can depend on.
''It's time for new faces to step up and go from there. It's always exciting. You've been around these guys and know what they can do. You see these guys finally getting an opportunity to make the plays that they want to.''
Utah returns six offensive starters, including five offensive linemen. Right tackle J.J. Dielman is expected to be an All-America candidate and the group should improve even more once Snow College transfer Garett Bolles arrives in the fall. Bolles was the No. 1 overall junior college prospect, according to Scout.com.
The Utes had the No. 97 total offense (363.0 yards per game) in the nation in 2015 and the No. 106 pass offense (180.0 yards per game).
Left tackle Sam Tevi said the offensive line has labeled themselves the big brothers of the offense with four seniors and a junior expected to start.
''It's kind of depressing, but it's kind of exciting at the same time,'' Tevi said. ''You see all these new guys learning the plays ... and they're all excited to get in. That just makes you more excited ... because you know they're locked in and they want to do their part to get on the field with us.
''I just know that this offense is going to be better than last year's offense.''