Christopher, Utah will let play do the talking

April, 12, 2012
4/12/12
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Here are some things you might not know about Utah's top receiver, DeVonte Christopher.

In 2007, he was Nevada's Gatorade Player of the Year. As a quarterback.

In 2008, he briefly lived with Utah's starting quarterback. That QB, guy by the name of Brian Johnson, is now the Utes offensive coordinator.

In 2010 and 2011, he led the Utes in receptions.

[+] EnlargeUtah Utes wide receiver DeVonte Christopher
James Snook-US PRESSWIREUtah wide receiver DeVonte Christopher says the Utes will feature a more "up-tempo" offense this season
And, on Sept. 10, 2011, he was the best receiver on the field in the LA Coliseum.

That last bit of info might be most significant. While some might not know much about Christopher, his catching 11 passes for 136 yards and a touchdown in a down-to-the-wire loss at USC is meaningful. On that day, Utah's first Pac-12 conference game, celebrated Trojans receivers Robert Woods and Marqise Lee combined for 10 receptions for 136 yards and no scores.

Two weeks later, Christopher caught five passes for 125 yards in a bad home loss to Washington, a game that was low-lighted from a Utes perspective by the loss of quarterback Jordan Wynn to a season-ending shoulder injury.

Because of that, the Utes offense, by necessity, changed. Balance gave way to John White right, John White left and John White up the middle. Utah passed for 883 yards in the first four games (221 yards per game) and 1,369 in the final nine (152 yards per game), ranking last in the Pac-12 in passing offense. Christopher's season became a what-might-have-been.

"I definitely look forward to going into the season with Jordan as our starter," Christopher said.

(That said, Christopher is also quick to tip his cap to Jon Hays, a transfer from Nebraska-Omaha, who replaced Wynn and was good enough to go 6-3 as the starter: "One thing I've got to do is give Jon Hays credit. He was thrown into the fire. He only came in during fall camp. I think that guy did a great job for us last year.").

In a conference loaded with outstanding receivers -- it's a decent bet that both 2012 first-team All-Americans will come from the Pac-12 -- Christopher mostly operates under the radar. But the 6-foot-1, 200-pound senior is the leader of a sneaky good Utes crew that only needs someone to consistently deliver the rock.

Utah's defense is going to be good. How good the offense is likely will determine if the Utes improve on last year's 8-5 finish.

How things might look on offense is a bit of a mystery due to an unexpected change at coordinator. Christopher admits that he was surprised that the 25-year-old Johnson was promoted to replace Norm Chow, with coach Kyle Whittingham going from a coaching legend past retirement age to a the nation's youngest coordinator. But once be got past surprise he said he was "ecstatic." He and Johnson go way back.

When Christopher arrived at Utah in 2008, his dorm room wasn't ready. So for a while he lived with Johnson and graduate assistant Robert Conley. While it's easy to wonder if that experience might complicate their present relationship -- from teammates and friends to coach and player -- Christopher said it actually enriches it.

"It's not really that weird because Brian has always had a mentality like a tutor," Christopher said. "The transition to him being a full-time coach wasn't big for me."

As for schematic issues, Christopher thinks Utah fans are going to like some changes Johnson is adopting. While the Utes will continue to run a mostly pro-style offense with a hard-nosed, downhill running game, Johnson is putting his own stamp on things.

"They will see a more up-tempo style," Christopher said. "We're going to definitely going to balance it out more with Jordan back in there. You can expect to see multiple sets with the power running game and play-action passing. A little of the spread, here and there."

Christopher also likes what he's seen out of Wynn so far this spring. He said Wynn is throwing well and, like other observers, he has noted that Wynn has bulked up, now tipping the scales at 207 pounds. Of course, Wynn getting buff might not only be about football.

"He's from San Diego, so it might have been for the beach-- I'm not too sure," Christopher said.

Utah is buffing up as a team as it gets ready for a second go-around in the Pac-12. Christopher said it was fun playing in bigger stadiums and in front of more fans last year. He also said the biggest difference in the conference compared to the Mountain West was depth.

"In the Mountain West, the starters are good but they have depth issues," he said. "In the Pac-12, the next guy is just as capable as the starter. That's the one thing I thought was the biggest difference."

Christopher is well-aware that just about everyone already has handed the South Division to USC. The general belief nationally is the Trojans are about national titles in 2012, with conference division titles being only a preliminary base to touch.

But Christopher and his teammates know how close they were last year at USC. They are yielding nothing. And, by the way, Christopher, while rejecting an opportunity to celebrate himself, yields nothing on where he stands among Pac-12 receivers.

Said Christopher, "Man, I just tell people to turn on the TV when we play. I try my best to let my play do the talking."

Ted Miller | email

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