Pac-12: Junior Salt

Utah spring wrap

May, 2, 2014
May 2
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Three things we learned in the spring
  1. O-line depth: While no coach is ever satisfied with depth on the offensive line, the Utes staff is feeling pretty good about the current setup. The left side has solid experience with Jeremiah Poutasi and Junior Salt and junior Siaosi Aiono, a former tackle, brings some experience in the middle. There are multiple options on the right side.
  2. Ground control: Right now it looks like Bubba Poole survived a push from Devontae Booker and is still the “starting” running back. But Booker impressed the coaching staff, and there’s depth behind him with Troy McCormick. Some good options for Utah to build on last year's 160.3 rushing yards per game.
  3. Improved secondary: The Utes had the second to worst turnover ratio in the league last year, which included a league-low three interceptions. But the staff feels good with Brian Blechen back at strong safety and some competition at the corner spots with Davion Orphey and Eric Rowe on one side and Justin Thomas at nickel.
Three questions for the fall
  1. LB depth: The Utes had a run of injuries to starters and key reserves, which signals an alarm that depth could be an issue heading into the fall and beyond. For now, it looks like Uaea Masina, Jason Whittingham and Jared Norris hold down the top three spots.
  2. WR questions: Dres Anderson, the leading receiver last year with 53 catches for 1,002 yards and seven touchdowns, is back at one spot. But there’s some competition continuing for the other two spots between Delshawn McClellon and Kaelin Clay at one position and Kenneth Scott and Dominique Hatfield at the other.
  3. Many happy returns: While it looks like Geoff Norwood is slated to handle the punt returns, he might have to split some time with Poole. Norwood is also in the mix with Hatfield for kickoff return duties, but that probably won’t get worked out until practice resumes in the fall.
One way-too-early prediction: Travis Wilson will play and the Utes will make it to the postseason. Craziness, right? The big nonconference game this year is at Michigan, a program with a big name but not very big results the last couple of years. Kyle Whittingham had the upper hand on Brady Hoke when he was in the Mountain West. The Utes broke through with a win over Stanford and almost knocked off UCLA and ASU. It’s not out of the question to imagine them winning six games and getting back to the postseason -- especially with a healthy Wilson at QB.

Utah Utes season preview

August, 8, 2013
8/08/13
10:30
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We continue our day-by-day snapshots of each Pac-12 team heading into the 2013 season in reverse alphabetical order with the Utah Utes.

Utah

Coach: Kyle Whittingham (71-32 overall, 7-11 Pac-12)

2012 record: 5-7 (3-6, Pac-12 South)

Key losses: RB John White, LT Sam Brenner, DT Star Lotulelei, DE Joe Kruger, DT Dave Kruger, KR Reggie Dunn, P Sean Sellwood, K Coleman Petersen.

[+] EnlargeKelvin York
Scott Olmos/USA TODAY SportsKelvin York steps in as the starting tailback, replacing John White.
Key returnees: WR Dres Anderson, TE Jake Murphy, QB Travis Wilson, RB Kelvin York, LB Brian Blechen, LB Trevor Reilly.

Newcomer to watch: The team is still waiting to see whether defensive back Tevin Carter will be eligible. He was once a highly rated wide receiver who originally committed to Cal before transferring to L.A. Southwest College. Juco transfer Sese Ianu from Golden West College is a big-bodied defensive tackle who is expected to compete immediately.

Biggest games in 2013: The Utes will be looking for vengeance against Utah State in the opener on Aug. 29. At BYU on Sept. 21 takes on even greater significance with the Holy War going on break. They also host Stanford (Oct. 12) and travel to Oregon (Nov. 16) for the first time since joining the conference.

Biggest question mark heading into 2013: Whittingham said that he wasn't expecting Joe Kruger to leave early for the NFL -- and that left an additional void on the defensive front that already had to replace Lotulelei and another Kruger. Tenny Palepoi has good experience and played in every game last year. Ianu should help, and the tentative plan is to toggle Reilly -- last year’s leading tackler -- back and forth between defensive end and linebacker. Nate Orchard and Jason Whittingham will also rotate through, and when those two are on the line, Reilly might play back at linebacker and vice versa.

Forecast: While the line might be the biggest question mark on defense, many are wondering what the passing attack -- which ranked last in the league last season with just 190.7 yards per game (and eighth in efficiency) -- is going to look like with Dennis Erickson now commanding the offense. He joins the staff as co-offensive coordinator alongside Brian Johnson and will serve as the primary playcaller.

He’s been a head coach at six universities and for two NFL teams, and he’s the only person to be the league’s coach of the year at three different schools (Washington State, Oregon State and Arizona State). His offenses know how to move the ball and put up points.

That should bode well as Wilson grows into his role as the starting quarterback. He came in midseason last year and steadily improved each week. With an entire offseason working with Erickson and Johnson, his learning curve shouldn't be as steep.

Kelvin York steps in as the primary ball carrier, replacing White, a two-time 1,000-yard rusher. He’ll have the benefit of what should be an improved offensive line. The coaching staff is high on 6-foot-5, 345-pound left tackle Jeremiah Poutasi and guard Junior Salt.

Last season, Utah’s second since joining the league from the Mountain West Conference, wasn't a pleasant one for Kyle Whittingham, who was never shy about expressing his disappointment. Keep in mind, this isn't a team used to missing the postseason. Before last year’s 5-7 record, the Utes had been to nine straight bowl games with an 8-1 postseason mark. Injuries, which led to inconsistent quarterback and offensive line play, were major contributing factors. At least for now, it appears like those have been sorted out, so marked improvement is expected.

Utah Utes spring wrap

May, 8, 2013
5/08/13
7:00
AM ET
Utah Utes

2012 record: 5-7
2012 conference record: 3-6 (Fifth in South Division)
Returning starters: Offense: 6; Defense 6; kicker/punter: 0

Top returners: WR Dres Anderson, TE Jake Murphy, QB Travis Wilson, RB Kelvin York, LB Brian Blechen, LB Trevor Reilly.

Key losses: RB John White, LT Sam Brenner, DT Star Lotulelei, DE Joe Kruger, DT Dave Kruger, KR Reggie Dunn, P Sean Sellwood, K Coleman Petersen.

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: John White (1,085)
Passing: Travis Wilson* (1,311)
Receiving: Dres Anderson* (365)
Tackles: Trevor Reilly* (69)
Sacks: Joe Kruger (6)
Interceptions: Ryan Lacy (2)

Spring answers
  1. Identity found: Sort of. The addition of co-offensive coordinator Dennis Erickson has given the Utes the identity on offense that they were sorely missing last season. The Utes will join the ranks of several other spread teams in the conference with the hopes of improving the passing game. Head coach Kyle Whittingham said the team had previously been transitioning to the spread, but the addition of Erickson to the staff has hastened the process. Last year Utah ranked last in the Pac-12 in passing, averaging 190.7 yards per game.
  2. Shoring up the line: For now, it looks like Utah has found its starting five on the offensive line. And it’s a big, big bunch with an average weight of 320 pounds. Jeremiah Poutasi (345) is in at left tackle, Jeremiah Tofaeono (320) is in at left guard, Vyncent Jones (305) is in at center with Junior Salt (guard, 325) and Siaosi Aiono (305) on the right side. A lot of folks are excited to finally see Salt in action and the coaching staff has been singing his praises for more than a year.
  3. Backing up the back: It’s no secret that the Utes lost a talented runner in John White -- a two-time 1,000-yard rusher. Kelvin York, who sits atop the depth chart, showed promise in limited work last year. And this spring the coaching staff was able to develop some depth behind him with James Poole, Lucky Radley and Karl Williams all in contention to be the first back off the bench.
Fall questions
  1. No. 2 QB? Travis Wilson, who started the second half of last season, did a good job entrenching himself as the starter and creating some separation from the pack. But any Utah fan worth their salt knows how important quarterback depth can be -- especially after the past few years. And the race will be on this fall to see if Adam Schulz or Brandon Cox will be Wilson’s primary understudy.
  2. Looking for something special: The Utes have to replace a kicker and a punter in 2013. As of now, it looks like kicking duties fall to Andy Phillips while Tom Hackett takes over at punter. Speaking of special teams, there’s also the departure of All-American kick returner Reggie Dunn to consider. The top candidates to return kicks are Quinton Pedroza and Charles Henderson.
  3. D-line in transition: Utah lost 75 percent of a very talented defensive line crew -- including first-round draft pick Star Lotulelei and the Kruger brothers. And it looks like a lot remains unsettled. Nate Orchard and Jason Whittingham are separated by an “or” at left end, one of the two tackle spots is up for grabs between LT Tuipulotu and Sese Ianu and Whittingham and converted linebacker Trevor Reilly are both up for that right end spot. Kyle Whittingham has said he’s still not sure how he’ll play Reilly -- who could spend more time with his hand down, working in a hybrid DL/LB role.

Pac-12 bold predictions for 2013

January, 15, 2013
1/15/13
9:00
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As all of you know, the Pac-12 blog -- Kevin and myself -- is bold. Not bold like, "Hey, this is a bold cabernet!" but bold like a guy willing to jump into a volcano to save his remote control.

There is no fear with the Pac-12 blog. None. Other than cockroaches. We don't like those. And I personally found "The Ring" pretty unsettling, but it's not as if I woke up with nightmares for a month or anything ("Don't you understand, Rachel... she never sleeps!").

The point is you folks out there know we'd storm the beaches at Normandy in Speedos to protect your freedoms.

Bold.

So, without further delay, we present BOLD PREDICTIONS for 2013.

The Pac-12 will dethrone the SEC and win the final BCS national title: The SEC's streak of seven national titles will come to an end in an appropriate place: the Rose Bowl. But who will do the honors, ruining Alabama and Nick Saban's hopes for a three-peat?

That team will be Oregon: The Ducks have a lot of nice pieces coming back in 2013 -- 15 position players -- but the key one will be Heisman Trophy-winning QB Marcus Mariota.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
AP Photo/Bruce SchwartzmanCan Marcus Mariota lead Oregon to a national championship?
Yes, that's Heisman Trophy-winning QB Marcus Mariota: Mariota will be in New York with USC receiver Marqise Lee and Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel, but it will be the Hurling Honolulan walking away with the bronze statue this time.

No Pac-12 coach will be fired in 2013: Considering there's only one coach truly on the hot seat, what we're really saying is...

Lane Kiffin and USC will post a bounce-back season: We expect the Trojans to win 10 games -- that's with a highly favorable 13-game schedule, by the way -- and return to the national rankings. Although the Trojans won't return to dominance, they will play better all-around football in 2013, and it will be enough to quiet Kiffin's critics -- at least enough for him to return in 2014. We don't, however, expect USC to win the South Division.

Oregon will play Arizona State in Pac-12 title game: The Sun Devils will emerge from a pack that includes the Trojans and UCLA to win the South.

Stanford won't win the North, but it will play in a BCS bowl game. Again: The Cardinal will lose only to Oregon and finish ranked in the top five.

The Pac-12 will finish 2013 with six teams in the Top 25: That will be six of this seven: Oregon, Stanford, Washington, Arizona State, UCLA, USC and Oregon State.

The Washington renaissance will arrive: The Huskies will finish 9-3 in 2013, opening the new Husky Stadium in style.

Colorado will win four games in Year 1 under Mike MacIntyre: And Buffs fans will be reasonably encouraged.

Washington State will go 5-7 in Year 2 under Mike Leach: And Cougs fans will be reasonably encouraged, particularly when the offense starts to look Leachian.

The sledding will be rough in Sonny Dykes' first season at California: The Bears don't have great talent coming back, but the schedule is the biggest problem. By my guess, Dykes will play eight ranked teams in his first season, including a strong Big Ten duo at home the first and third weekends of the season (Northwestern and Ohio State).

Arizona's offensive numbers will make everyone realize how good Matt Scott was: Arizona averaged 37 points and 522 yards per game last year because of QB Matt Scott, who ranked seventh in the nation in total offense with 338.5 per game. He was a perfect fit for Rich Rodriguez's K offense. We expect the Wildcats' offense to take a step back in 2013, whether B.J. Denker or JC transfer Jesse Scroggins wins the QB job. As good as national rushing champion Ka'Deem Carey is, he will find the holes a bit smaller without Scott, even with a solid offensive line coming back.

Defenses will continue to rise: Arizona State defensive tackle Will Sutton and UCLA outside linebacker Anthony Barr will be first-team preseason All-Americans, and Stanford will again have one of the nation's top 10 defenses. But we also expect across-the-board improvement on defense.

But it will still be the Conference of QBs: Mariota will win the Heisman and again earn the first-team All-Pac-12 nod, but the battle for second-team will be hot between Arizona State's Taylor Kelly, Stanford's Kevin Hogan, UCLA's Brett Hundley and Washington's Keith Price, who will be the conference's Comeback Player of the Year.

Players of the Year? Mariota and Barr will win the offensive and defensive player of the year awards in the conference. Sutton and Stanford's David Yankey will repeat as Morris Trophy winners as the best linemen. Incoming Oregon running back Thomas Tyner will win offensive freshman of the year, and USC redshirt freshman linebacker Jabari Ruffin will earn defensive freshman honors.

Breakout player: Junior Oregon State receiver Brandin Cooks will earn first-team All-Pac-12 honors with Marqise Lee.

Breakout player II: Dykes will figure out a way to get talented junior running back Brendan Bigelow touches. Bigelow will make Dykes glad he did.

Speaking of newcomers: Utah doesn't look as if it sets up for a great 2013, in large part thanks to issues on both lines. But things might perk up if 6-foot-4, 330-pound defensive tackle Junior Salt proves equal to expectations. And stays healthy. Salt was a JC transfer -- a former Florida recruit -- who sat out last year after breaking his foot in August. Coach Kyle Whittingham practically blushed talking about him and how he made Star Lotulelei look small.

And Oregon State's starting QB in 2013 is ...: Heck, what do you think we are... psychic?

Utah spring wrap

May, 14, 2012
5/14/12
7:00
AM ET
2011 overall record: 8-5
2011 conference record: 4-5 (T 3rd, South)
Returning starters: Offense: 9; defense: 7; punter/kicker: 2

Top returners
QB Jordan Wynn, DT Star Lotulelei, RB John White, WR DeVonte Christopher, S Brian Blechen, OL Sam Brenner.

Key losses
OL Tony Bergstrom, DE Derrick Shelby; LB Chaz Walker, OL John Cullen.

2011 statistical leaders (*returning)
Rushing: John White* (1,519 yards)
Passing: Jon Hays* (1,459 yards)
Receiving: DeVonte Christopher* (663 yards)
Tackles: Chaz Walker (118)
Sacks: Derrick Shelby, Trevor Reilly* (5)
Interceptions: Conroy Black (4)

Spring answers
1. High hopes: Quarterback Jordan Wynn is healthy -- hopefully for more than just a few weeks at a time. After a fantastic true freshman year, Wynn's career has been hijacked by multiple injuries that have limited his time. He's put on more weight (up to about 210) and if he stays healthy, should have great success with Brian Johnson running the offense.

2. LB answers: The Utes had some holes to fill at the linebacker spot with the departures of Chaz Walker and Matt Martinez, leaving Trevor Reilly as the only returning starter. But V.J. Fehoko appears to have won the job at the middle linebacker spot and either Jacoby Hale or LT Filiaga will fill the rover spot.

3. RB depth: John White had more carries than any other running back in the conference last season. That's a lot of wear and tear, so developing some guys behind him was crucial. Harvey Langi and Kelvin York established themselves as the guys behind White. Both are bigger -- Langi is 228 and York is 225 -- so they'll be a nice change of pace from the speedier White.

Fall questions
1. Who has Wynn's back? Developing a guy behind Wynn -- giving his history of injury -- is pretty crucial. It looks like Jon Hays would probably be the guy if Wynn goes down again -- which makes sense -- because the Utes probably don't want to burn a redshirt year on Travis Wilson or Chase Hansen. But on his latest depth chart, head coach Kyle Whittingham left an "OR" between Hays and Wilson, leaving the door open that maybe he has a little more faith in Wilson.

2. Who has Wynn's backside? The Utes have to fill two substantial holes left by departed tackles John Cullen and Tony Bergstrom. As of now, Percy Taumoelau is penciled in at left tackle and Daniel Nielson is slotted for the right tackle. But Whittingham has said those aren't set in stone. Cullen and Bergstrom were two of the best in the conference. No easy job stepping in for those guys.

3. DL depth: Up front, Utah is probably as good as anyone in the conference with Lotulelei, Joe and Dave Kruger and Nate Fakahafua. But behind them, there are questions. Converted running back Thretton Palamo, Hunter Dimick and junior-college transfer Niasi Leota figure to be in the mix. But like the offensive-line spots, nothing is written in ink. Junior Salt and Tenny Palepoi could also see time in the rotation.

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