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Kyle Whittingham’s Thoughts On Utah’s Spring Ball 3/28/23

Mar 28, 2023, 8:32 PM

SALT LAKE CITY – Utah football is officially in spring ball mode and head coach Kyle Whittingham had some thoughts to give the media after practice on Tuesday, March 28, 2023.

Utah has a great shot at three-peating in 2023 as conference champions- something that has never been done in the Pac-12-era but will require a lot of work on the Utes’ part to accomplish given the returning depth across the Conference of Champions.

If you missed last week’s Whittingham breakdown, you can review it here. Otherwise, here is what the man in charge had to say about Utah football in week two of spring ball.

The Quarterback Battle

Obviously, all eyes are on the battle for the No. 2 spot behind starter Cam Rising while he’s out through spring recovering from ACL surgery. With the pads now on, Whittingham said guys have been making some moves, but not enough yet to go into great detail. This is definitely a “stay tuned” situation.

“We still have a long way to go and we’re starting to see a little bit of separation,” Whittingham said. “Nothing that is really of comment right now. It’s four practices down, 11 to go so hopefully as we continue to get deeper into spring ball, we’ll see even more separation in a good way. Guys separating themselves by emerging from the pack. That’s the objective of spring is to get that solidified and if not solidified, a really good start for fall.”

 

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We all know Whittingham is looking for a guy who will take care of the football, but he revealed some of the other things he and the staff are looking at closely this spring to determine their 2023 quarterback depth chart.

“Taking care of the football is always job number one for the quarterback,” Whittingham said. “Making sure we possess the ball and don’t turn it over. Moving the chains, getting us into the endzone- all of that stuff. Things that are more intangible- leadership, the ‘it’ factor. Ya know, that ‘field general’ mentality that you look for in a quarterback. A guy who can take command in the huddle, that really has that presence, so we are looking for that as well.”

Micah Bernard’s Status For Spring

Running back Micah Bernard has been a big piece of the Utah football offense the past two seasons and for a hot second it looked like the Utes were not going to have in 2023 when he hit the transfer portal. As things came about, Bernard had a change of heart and decided to come back to the Utes for his final season of eligibility, but he hasn’t participated in spring yet due to healing up.

“We hope so,” Whittingham said when asked whether Bernard will participate in spring ball. “He is- I won’t say day by day, but week by week. Right now, as per our training staff- they don’t think it’s advisable to have him out here. If we had a game today, he could probably play, but we don’t have that need right now. We need to get him 100%, so, and so we are doing everything we can to get this thing completely healed.”

Tight Ends

Utah has had some great depth over the years at tight end, but this year will be a little different without Dalton Kincaid. While Brant Kuithe is a proven commodity, much like Bernard, he’s still recovering from an injury last season and doesn’t have a lot to prove. That leaves just Thomas Yassmin as the only “known” commodity participating this spring. Whittingham discussed who some of the “other guys” are in the room are getting reps and impressing early this spring.

 

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“We moved Noah Bennee from wide receiver to tight end and he’s doing some really good things,” Whittingham said. “We moved Miki Suguturaga from D-end to tight end and it looks like that was a good move for us. He’s got to really pick up some of the slack that we lost when Logan Kendall left cuz he was real physical, line of scrimmage tight end and that is where Miki comes in. When we get Brant back, that will give that whole thing a new look. We think we will be ok there.”

Ja’Quinden Jackson At Running Back

Ja’Quinden Jackson was a pleasant surprise last season for the Utes when he switched from quarterback to running back in the middle of the season in what felt like seamless fashion. Anyone understands football, however, knows Jackson was relying a lot on raw talent, and the pressure is on to continue getting him up to speed on the technique end of the position which Whittingham says he’s doing very well.

“He’s becoming more polished and more adept at all of the intricacies of the position- the finer points of it,” Whittingham said. “That’s what you would expect. Coach Ganther is doing a great job with him, and he’s got to realize what we all realize, which is how limited his experience is at that position. Relative to the experience he has to where he is and how he’s performing is pretty incredible.”

Ole Miss Transfer Miles Battle

One of the more intriguing additions to the Utes in the offseason was Ole Miss transfer cornerback Miles Battle. At 6’4″ and 205 lbs., Battle is a sight to behold out on the field and a bit of a throwback to Utah’s Sean Smith over a decade ago. According to Whitt, Battle not only looks the part, but is playing the part out on the field early on in spring.

“Miles Battle had a good practice today,” Whittingham said. “We got some live work out here. The ones got some lighter work than the twos did, and he was involved with the twos for a lot of those reps, and he really showed out and made some plays. He’s going to help us this fall. There is no doubt about it.”

The Safeties

When Clayton Isbell decided to transfer just before spring ball started, there was some concern amongst the fans about what would happen with the safety position. Whittingham is here to say the group looks good.

“The safeties are looking good,” Whittingham said. “Especially the first two- Cole Bishop and Sione Vaki. They are the ones running with the first group. We still have Nate Ritchie on the shelf. He’s not ready to go yet- he’s kind of like Micah Bernard. It’s a week-to-week thing and we’ll see what happens there. We do need to find out who the backups are. We have those first three counting Nate, though he’s not getting reps. We’ve got to find out who is number four and number five.”

Interestingly, Vaki is also still getting work at the nickel position as well according to Whittingham and that will continue to be a week-by-week determination as well.

“That will be a week-to-week thing as well through the season depending on the matchup,” Whittingham said. “If it’s a good matchup for him to be on the slot receiver depending on who that guy is, then we will play that three-safety scheme. If not, then Tao Johnson is doing a really good job at the spot right now and looking like he has a lot of potential there.”

Doing Evaluations With The Pads

Last week was tough to garner much from practice while Utah work shirts, shorts and helmets. This week is a different story now that the pads are on, and Whittingham explained why that is such a crucial step in making depth chart evaluations.

“It’s real football,” Whittingham said. “It’s not real football when you’re just in the helmets and you can’t hit anybody. Football is so physical and then that element is so critical. You can’t really get a gauge on it unless you have the pads on and so- I don’t want to say the practices without pads on are meaningless, but you really get your evaluations when you have the pads on.”

Michelle Bodkin is the Utah Utes Insider for KSLsports.com and host of both the Crimson Corner Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and The Saturday Show (Saturday from 10 a.m.–12 p.m.) on The KSL Sports Zone. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram: @BodkinKSLsports

 

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Kyle Whittingham’s Thoughts On Utah’s Spring Ball 3/28/23