2012 Utah Preview – Offense
Utah RB John White
CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - Utah Ute Offense
Preview 2012 - Offense
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What You Need To Know: Keep No. 3 healthy. That’s been the edict to the offense throughout the offseason. Utah was awful offensively in 2011, due in large part to another season-ending injury suffered by QB Jordan Wynn. When he’s out, the Utes are stagnant. When he’s piloting the attack, they’re far more balanced and unpredictable. A healthy Wynn, which was the case in the spring, plus All-Pac-12 RB John White will give Utah the ingredients of one of the league’s better backfields. White was a godsend in his JUCO debut, setting a single-season school record with 1,519 yards on the ground. Wynn will also have access to a quality collection of wide receivers, led by senior DeVonte Christopher. What the quarterback won’t have is complete confidence in his offensive line, a unit that needs to replace both of last year’s all-conference tackles. Competition is going to be heated up front, as the staff searches for its best possible combination in the trenches.
Star of the offense: Senior RB John White
Passing: Jon Hays
120-214, 1,459 yds, 12 TDs, 8 INTs
Rushing: John White
316 carries, 1,519 yds, 15 TDs
Receiving: DeVonte Christopher
42 catches, 663 yds, 5 TDs
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior LT Percy Taumoelau
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore WR Dres Anderson
Best pro prospect: White
Top three all-star candidates: 1) White, 2) Senior C Tevita Stevens, 3) Senior WR DeVonte Christopher
Strength of the offense: The running game, yards after the catch, interior of the line
Weakness of the offense: Durability and depth at quarterback, the tackles, pass protection, converting on third down, red zone conversions
Last season proved a lot of things in Salt Lake City. One indisputable fact is that the Utes desperately need junior Jordan Wynn to be healthy for an entire season. He’s been besieged by shoulder problems since winning the starting job as a true freshman in 2009, going under the knife in December of 2010 for the right one, and again last October for the left one. For his career, the 6-2, 207-pounder has thrown nearly twice as many touchdowns as interceptions, but is still seeking his first complete season. The aptly-named Wynn puts his team in the best possible situation to be successful, leading with poise, confidence and maturity. While not a flamethrower, he does uncork an accurate and catchable ball.
The Utes will have two distinct options at No. 2, an especially important role considering Wynn’s injury history. The clear-cut veteran is 6-0, 205-pound senior Jon Hayes, a second-year transfer from Butte (Calif.) College. He was pressed into action last fall, but struggled badly in an expanded role. While the numbers don’t appear awful, 120-of-214 for 1,459 yards, 12 touchdowns and eight picks, he often looked overwhelmed and out of place.
The staff is more likely to anoint true freshman Travis Wilson, who has far less experience, but a substantially higher ceiling. The 6-6, 204-pounder already took part in spring camp, and quickly looked as if he’d be the future successor to Wynn. His mechanics need some tweaking, but he still throws with enough accuracy and zip to portend a bright future.
Watch Out For … Wynn to chum up with the strength and conditioning people over the next few months. He’s already added 10 pounds of muscle since the beginning of the year, filling out a frame that needs as much cushion as it can handle. If the junior can remain in peak condition, the likelihood that he remains healthy goes up.
Strength: Veteran leadership. In Wynn, the Utes harbor a proven player and the type of quarterback who can deliver big wins for the program. Yeah, he’s been in and out of the lineup, but already has a 13-6 career record as a starter to go along with the respect and confidence of the teammates around him.
Weakness: Durability. When Wynn is at full strength, Utah is home to a winning quarterback. However, he’s spent almost as much time on the shelf as he has on the field. And behind No. 3 is a pair of question marks, a rookie who has yet to throw his first pass at this level, and a senior who struggled when his number was called in 2011.
Outlook: In Salt Lake City, it’ll be a case of Wynn or else for the Utes. Although the program proved in 2011 that it can survive without its catalyst, it needs him taking snaps in order to thrive. He’s a difference-maker who’ll help the wide receivers and running backs maximize their potential. Ideally, Wynn will remain upright for the entire regular season, allowing Wilson to learn on the sidelines without burning his redshirt year.
Unit Rating: 7
It’s hard to imagine that at this time last year, Utah was a little unsure of who’d pick up the slack following the graduations Matt Asiata and Eddie Wide. It turns out that 5-8, 186-pound John White, a transfer from Los Angeles Harbor College, was the answer all along . He debuted in spectacular fashion, snapping the school’s single-season rushing record with 1,519 yards and 15 touchdowns on 316 workmanlike carries. Despite his modest frame, he was shockingly physical and durable, using quick feet, a low center of gravity and outstanding balance to gobble up yards in bunches. With a little more help from the passing game, White will be even harder to contain in his senior year.
The competition to determine White’s backup won’t be decided until August. The staff, though, feels as if it’s mined another outstanding recruit from the junior-college ranks, 5-11, 225-pound junior Kelvin York. The Fullerton (Calif.) College product was still recovering from a knee injury in the spring, yet still showcased the burst and power that helped him land a scholarship.
York’s competition for carries is coming from 6-1, 228-pound Harvey Langi, the state’ top recruit of 2011 who chose Utah over more prominent Pac-12 schools. He’s been slow out of the gate in a little over a year on campus, but does have the soft hands to become a factor on third down and obvious passing situations.
Watch Out For … a few more breathers for White than he got last fall. Hey, the workhorse proved in 2011 that he can handle the load, but why risk wearing him out in a long season? No. 15 remains the go-to guy, but unlike a year ago, don’t be surprised if someone like York steals six or seven touches a game in order to keep the franchise fresh.
Strength: Physical backs. York is a sturdy 225-pounder, while Langi is a little north of his backfield mate. Yet, it’s the 186-pound White who really sets the tone for the Utah ground game, hitting the hole quickly, and running with ideal pad level to bounce off tacklers for additional yards.
Weakness: Proven backups. If White runs the way he did a year ago, it won’t matter what’s behind him on the depth chart. However, he took a lot of hits, and carried the ball more in 2011 than all but four other players in the country. The Utes increase the likelihood that White will remain durable if York or Langi prove to be serviceable reserves.
Outlook: In White, the Utes unearthed a gem last season. Now, they’re looking for an encore presentation out of their fringe Heisman contender. It’s possible that the senior could be even more effective than he was in 2011 if he gets a little more support from the passing game and the other backs. If Utah is more balanced now that QB Jordan Wynn is healthy, White will be doubling difficult to contain.
Unit Rating: 8
Seven Utes caught at least 13 balls last year. All of them are back in Salt Lake City for at least one more year of service. The gamebreaker of the group will once again be 6-1, 200-pound senior DeVonte Christopher, the program’s leading receiver two years running. A year ago, he caught 42 balls for 663 yards and five touchdowns, numbers that were negatively impacted by the team’s unsettled quarterback situation. The former high school quarterback with the quick wheels has earned a reputation for picking up yards after the catch and adjusting well to difficult throws.
Christopher is sure to be joined in the lineup by Dres Anderson, the precocious Ute who debuted with 23 catches for 355 yards and three touchdowns. The 6-1, 175-pound son of former UCLA star Flipper Anderson is mostly a vertical threat at this stage of his career, using 4.4 speed to stretch a defense. He still needs to add some bulk, and prove he can be effective in traffic.
The final starting job in three-wide sets will come down to two disparate players, 6-2, 206-pound senior Luke Matthews and 5-10, 170-pound senior Reggie Dunn. Matthews is one of the toughest and most versatile players on the roster, a team captain a year ago. While he only caught 17 passes for 263 yards and two touchdowns in 2011, he’s a sparkplug type guy who means more to this program than whatever appears in a box score. Dunn, on the other hand, is most effective in space, where he can create matchup problems with his speed. The Oregon State transfer was held to 15 catches for 211 yards and a score, but also carried the ball 15 times for 181 yards.
The Utes will make liberal use of bigger pass-catchers, such as their tight ends and H-backs. Senior Dallin Rogers, for instance. The 6-3, 245-pounder has earned three letters with the program, peaking with 22 catches for 160 yards and two scores in just six games. A versatile weapon coming back from knee surgery, he can fill numerous roles on offense with his soft hands and athleticism, including fullback and slot receiver.
Watch Out For … this group’s eventual grade to parallel the health of QB Jordan Wynn’s shoulders. The Utah receivers could have been so much more dangerous a year ago had it not been for the season-ending injury to their batterymate. Although Wynn doesn’t have a cannon, when he’s not available, the Utes’ big-play ability depreciates rapidly.
Strength: Yards after the catch. Not only is this corps of receivers very fast, but it’s also effective at weaving in and out of traffic in order to extend a play. Without a ton of help from the team’s quarterbacks, Christopher, Anderson, Dunn and Matthews all averaged no less than 14 yards a reception a year ago.
Weakness: Consistency. No, it’s not entirely their fault, but the wide receivers still need to do a better on the little things, like eliminating drops, running tighter routes and holding blocks downfield. The Utes have the experience and raw physical skills, but still must become craftier in the way that they approach their assignments within the offense.
Outlook: The Utes have a lot of potential to do damage on the outside this season. The key for the staff and the quarterbacks will to maximize all of their ability. With the speed of Christopher, Dunn and Anderson, Utah ought to get more good looks on play-action, especially with RB John White in the backfield. And if the long ball threats can stretch the field, it’ll open up the middle of the D for Matthews, the tight ends and the H-backs.
Unit Rating: 7
After losing a pair of quality All-Pac-12 performers, tackles Tony Bergstrom and John Cullen, the Utes have some offseason work to do in the trenches. Everything will be built around senior C Tevita Stevens, the new anchor of the front wall. A former walk-on, with a great motor and work ethic, he’s about to begin his fourth year as a starter, two at right guard and now two at the pivot. He’s particularly skilled in pass protection, rarely allowing pressure from his zip code.
Behind Stevens is his likely successor, 6-3, 300-pound junior Vyncent Jones who started a game in 2011, and has lettered in each of the last two seasons. He’ll see plenty of action again before taking over one of the inside positions in 2013.
Senior Sam Brenner took over for Stevens at right guard in 2011 and did a solid job. The 6-3, 302-pounder started all but one game, doing an especially good job opening holes for RB John White. Entering his final year, the three-time letterwinner has accepted his role as one of the line leaders.
There’s an interesting competition taking place at left guard, one that’s currently being led by junior Jeremiah Tofaeono. Although he doesn’t have a ton of experience yet, he is one of the line’s strongest members, and leverages his 6-2, 317-pound frame to get under the other guy’s pads. Close behind Tofaeono is 6-2, 315-pound junior Latu Heimuli, a veteran who earned a pair of valuable starts last fall.
Figuring out the situation at tackle will be a key focus for this unit. On the left side, 6-4, 315-pound junior Percy Taumoelau is nearing a starting job after serving as the backup the last two seasons. He has the most experience among the tackles, and has the long arms and light feet to be a natural to take over at a very important position.
Right tackle looks as if it might be handled by a rookie, 6-6, 317-pound redshirt freshman Daniel Nielson. Not only does he have prototypical size for the position, but he impressed the staff with his intensity and retention during the spring. He’ll need to raise the level of his game up another notch if he’s going to hold off the veterans. One such contender, 6-3, 312-pound senior Miles Mason, displayed versatility and a quick learning curve in his first year out of El Camino (Calif.) College.
Watch Out For … the impact of the JUCO recruits. The Utes boast a pair of behemoths who’ll begin competing for a starting job right away. On the left side, Marc Pouvave is a 6-4, 336-pound road-grader, while projected right tackle Carlos Lozano is even bigger. The 6-6, 385-pounder from East Los Angeles Junior College takes a week to get around, but still needs to show he has the footwork to seal the edge.
Strength: Size. Head coach Kyle Whittingham felt his offensive line was a little mealy a year ago, and has addressed that issue during the offseason. Coming out of spring, there wasn’t a projected starter less than 300 pounds. By the opener, the average size of the starting unit will skyrocket if one—or both—of the junior-college transfers wins a job.
Weakness: Pass protection. From the unit that ranked 95th nationally in sacks allowed, Utah must replace two all-star tackles who are now trying to make NFL rosters. The Utes don’t feel set at either left or right tackle position, which is going to cause some sleepless nights for the coaching staff between now and September.
Outlook: Utah needs to protect brittle QB Jordan Wynn, one of the linchpins of the offense. Doing so will require the O-line to get turned around in a hurry. The program has had a tradition of developing quality blockers under Whittingham, a trend that must continue in 2012. Right now, the Utes look like a marginal group with especially big holes at tackle. Stevens and Brenner are fixtures. After those two, though, a lot of shuffling could take place in the summer.
Unit Rating: 6.5
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