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April 8, 2013

Lessons learned through week 3

Over mid-way through Utah football's spring camp, UteZone explores what has been revealed and what has yet to reveal itself in three weeks of practice.

Wilson is the Utes' quarterback

While he suffered a down third week of practice, including the all-important first scrimmage, Wilson still gives the Utes their best chance to win. While he didn't lose his job, it may or may not be slightly less secure than it was coming into camp, with Adam Schulz performing quite well behind him. Exciting newcomer Brandon Cox took big steps in week three, culminating with his best session of camp coming during the Utes' first scrimmage.

If anything, Wilson has shown well enough over time to be deemed THE quarterback, but he has also committed enough errors and mistakes to make Ute fans a little bit uncomfortable with him at the helm. Still young and still relatively inexperienced, Utah and it's fans are going to have to be willing to palate some of his mistakes, as they are bound to continue as he progresses through his learning curve.

Deficiencies aside, as a sophomore, Wilson does enough things well, and many things former starters Jordan Wynn and Jon Hays never could, or never did. The questions for Wilson are how fast can he progress, and just exactly how big is his upside?

Before some embark on a way too premature quarterback controversy discussion, these two questions must first be answered, and the Utes aren't even close to getting them answered.

Safeties emerge

It's been a long time since the Safety unit was a strength on the Utah defense, and early in the season, the unit are proving to worthy of such a statement. A solid, experienced group who under-performed last season should look to take another step forward this season, and if they do, they could cement their status as a defensive strength.

With two weeks left in camp, that occurrence could prove critical to a defense who is breaking in brand new corners in front of Eric Rowe, Tyron Morris-Edwards, Charles Henderson and some-time Safety Brian Blechen.

Defensive line rebuilding or re-loading?

With huge holes to fill across the defensive line after the loss of key names like David Kruger, Joe Kruger and Star Lotulelei, the line was one of the biggest questions coming into spring camp.While the interior line is shored up, showing no early concerns, the defensive end position has revealed itself as a glaring weakness for Kalani Sitake's defense.

With three weeks in the books, the unit remains a question with concerns about injuries to starting ends Trevor Reilly and Nate Orchard and a lack of depth behind them.

Despite some size, speed and athleticism at backup positions in Hunter Dimick and Thretton Palamo, their inexperience is still apparent. The injured Jason Whittingham and Moses Folauhola were to have helped to solidify the edges, but with early-spring injuries, that hole remains.

The Utes have plenty of talented, speedy options within the group, including Moana Ofahengaue, Cameron Taylor and Nick Mitchell that could help fill the gap, but each is extremely inexperienced and none of the group have any collegiate playing experience.

With an injury-laden defensive end group, the silver lining is that the latter are getting valuable and numerous reps at end, which the Utes hope will pay off in the form of someone emerging out of this group to help fill the gaps.

Cornerbacks a question

Many of the comments directed at the defensive ends can be said of Sharieff Shah's corners. The group is heavy on talent and speed, but it is un-proven. Early looks at Justin Thomas and Reggie Porter provide long-term security for the Utes at this position, but the here and now is very much in question.

Add junior converted corner Keith McGill into the picture, and next season's secondary looks to be set, but other than the last session or two of spring camp, McGill hadn't lived up to his billing. The question for this group is how much and how fast it can step up and provide some consistency in the Ute back-field.

Sophomore Tyler White looked to come in and provide some experience, but has had an up and down spring camp, along the lines of McGill's sometimes-good, sometimes-poor play.

The group's promise and potential are great, but their current stock is trending down, as the Utes have a 2013-13 schedule to think about, and can't afford to wait for their corners to come around.

The Utes have a Pac-12 caliber offensive line

It's been so long since the Utes could say they had a dependable offensive line, one would have to go back to the senior year of Zane Taylor and Caleb Schlauderaff to recall it.

This season, Dan Finn's group is proving to be a well-rounded unit, who is adept at both run-blocking and pass protection. The group is enjoying previously unheard of depth as well as the unusual ability to stay health (so far), providing opportunities for the starting line to develop the all-important chemistry needed in order to succeed.

The one caveat to this group's success is the question of whether or not their success is due in part to a Ute defensive line who may actually be as weak as they seem. In other words, the same, old conundrum that always accompanies any spring camp success; is the unit that good or is the one opposite them that bad?

The truth probably lies somewhere in between, which is still a huge positive for the Utah offensive line, as they are starting from a completely different jumping off point than past offensive lines, whose collective upside is huge.

Starting wide receivers solid

Dres Anderson and Kenneth Scott appear to be poised for huge, individual seasons with each having a stand-out spring camp performance. Last year's camps saw the wide receivers, as a unit, plagued with drops, which haunted them during the season. The corps' issues only compounded the Utes' numerous offensive issues, and job one for this group in spring camp was to erase that issue.

While Anderson and Scott have accomplished that feat, they will need to continue that into fall camp as well as into the season. Additionally, the Utes need to establish a solid third receiver, currently being filled by the talented Quinton Pedroza, who has had his ups and downs so far through camp.

Both Pedroza and Anthony Denham will compete with incoming JUCO receiver Andre Lewis in fall, but a strong finish in the final two weeks of camp could go far in helping to solidify that third starting spot for either Denham or Pedroza.

Place kickers a concern

While Jay Hill and Kyle Whittingham will express confidence in the Utah kicking game, and continue to call it a "work in progress", the fact is that the work has to progress for this group much more quickly than it is.

The stated issues of having an entirely new kicking battery notwithstanding, this group has to become more consistent. Period. While said issues are valid and even understandable, the reasons why this group isn't performing won't matter come fall. The fact that group is new won't change the fact their team will be depending on them in key situations, especially in Pac-12 play.

The good news is that the Utes are getting the services of long-snapper Chase Dominguez come fall, but the bad news is, that doesn't leave the battery much time to acclimate and come together.

There is still plenty of time for this group to clean up its act, but for now, the group remains a huge concern for the Utes, even if not the biggest concern.


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