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2007 Utah Preview - Offense

CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Apr 8, 2007


Preview 2007 Utah Ute Offense

Utah Utes

Preview 2007
- Offense

- 2007 Utah Preview | 2007 Utah Defense Preview
-
2007 Utah Depth Chart | 2006 CFN Utah Preview 

What you need to know:
Look out. Utah not only gets just about everyone back with its top six wide receivers, leading rusher Darryl Poston, and four starting offensive linemen, but it also welcomes back its superstar, quarterback Brian Johnson, after taking last year off to recover from a torn ACL. All the problems with inconsistency throughout last season should be gone thanks to all the experience. Expect more explosion, a slew of Mountain West all-stars, and for Johnson to become a national college football name. There's more than enough depth at the skill positions to withstand injuries, but there's no development among the backups on the line.  

Returning Leaders
Passing: Tommy Grady
7-14, 102 yds, 1 TD, 3 INT
Rushing: Darryl Poston
145 carries, 553 yds, 5TD
Receiving: Derrek Richards
60 catches, 717 yds, 6 TD

Star of the offense: Junior QB Brian Johnson
Player that has to step up and become a star: Senior OT Jeremy Inferrera
Unsung star on the rise: Junior RB Matt Asiata
Best pro prospect: Senior OT Jason Boone
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Johnson, 2) Boone, 3) OG Robert Conley
Strength of the offense: Experience, offensive line
Weakness of the offense: Offensive line depth, sure-thing star running back

Quarterbacks

Projected Starter: Back and better than new (at least Utah fans hope) is junior Brian Johnson, one of the Mountain West's premier players who started to turn into a star at the end of 2005, with 1,425 passing yards and 11 touchdown passes in a four-game stretch, when he got hurt late with a bad knee injury. While he probably could've pushed it and come back early, and just for a split-second was considering stepping in at one point when former starter, Brett Ratliff, was struggling, he ended up sitting out the year to heal completely. Now the 2005 Mountain West total yardage leader has two years left to fulfill the promise when Urban Meyer recruited him a few years ago and considered him the ideal fit for his spread offense. While he's only 6-1 and 210 pounds, he doesn't have any problems finding throwing lanes making most of his plays on the move. He threw for 2,982 yards and 18 touchdowns and ran for 478 yards before, and now that he knows the offense even better after his year off, and after getting work in on the scout team, he should explode.

Projected Top Reserves: Former Oklahoma transfer Tommy Grady was considered deep in the hunt for the starting job last year, got beaten out by Ratliff, and did nothing when given a chance. At 6-7 and 235 pounds, he's a pure passer with a little bit of experience seeing time with the Sooners and playing in seven games last year. He has a howitzer for an arm, but he has to be more accurate.

Sophomore Chad Manis will have a few years to season after coming over from the JUCO ranks. At 6-5 and 210 pounds, he's a big passer with impressive mobility.

Watch Out For ... Johnson to be better than before. He'll have to guard against pressing too hard trying to do too much after his year off, but as long as he can stay healthy, he has Mountain West Player of the Year potential.
Strength
:
Big backups. Grady and Manis are more like basketball forwards than quarterbacks. If Johnson falters, each has enough experience to step in an bomb away potentially adding more pop to the passing game because of their styles, but ...
Weakness
:
... Johnson is the difference between a good year and something special. Obviously, every team's backup is worse than the No. 1, but Grady hasn't shown enough yet when given a chance to show he can lead the team through adversity, and Manis is an X factor. Johnson's knee is healthy, but everyone will be holding their breath every time he gets hit.
Outlook: Ratliff had his ups-and-downs last season, but he was generally solid leading the Utes to an eight win season and a miraculous play by BYU's John Beck of finishing up with a five-game winning streak. Brian Johnson will do even more and should take the offense to another level. If Utah could win with Brett Ratliff, it should be able to dominate with Johnson. Tommy Grady and Chad Manis are good backups who should be able to carry things for a while if needed, though Utah can't win the Mountain West title if they're under center.
Rating: 8.5

Running Backs

Projected Starters: Former USC Trojan Darryl Poston got a seventh year of eligibility from the NCAA after missing four years in a row with a variety of injuries with a torn up knee the worst of the bunch. He was the surprise of spring ball last season and went on to lead the team with 553 yards and five touchdowns in a slightly disappointing year. The smallest of the Utah running back options, despite being a solid 5-11 and 200 pounds, he has the potential to become a weapon if he can get into the open on a regular basis. Now he needs to crank out bigger runs after averaging just 3.8 yards per carry with a long run of 18.

Projected Top Reserves: 219-pound sophomore Darrell Mack is a power runner compared to the speed and quickness of Poston. He didn't get a whole bunch of work missing a bulk of the first half of the year banged up, but he was in the mix over the final five games. .With a good mix of power and moves, he has the potential to be the team's best back if he puts it all together and starts to produce.

223-pound junior Ray Stowers, who hasn't been able to do much in his career thanks to a variety of shoulder problems, brings even more thunder and could grow into a short-yardage back role.

Senior Mike Liti, who got a few carries here and there, got knocked out for the year with a knee injury a season after having problems with a shoulder injury. At best, he'll be a five-carry-a-game spot starter when he returns this fall.

Liti, Mack and Stowers could all be keeping the seat warm for star recruit Matt Asiata, a 235-pound JUCO transfer who ran for 1,365 yards and 15 touchdowns at Snow College. He's a tough, mature player who'll get every chance this fall to win the starting job.

Watch Out For ... more production from the running backs. There can't be less. Poston has way too much speed to be bottled up like he was last season, while the four main other options, if nothing else, will provide more power. Having a running quarterback like Brian Johnson will help take the pressure off.
Strength
:
Size. Poston is a slasher who's job is to zip through the openings. The rest of the backfield is about power with a little bit of quickness. At worst, this group will block well and keep Johnson clean.
Weakness
:
Can any of them actually produce? The running game was so bad that star defensive back Eric Weddle turned out to be the best option by the end of last year. There are plenty of options to play around with, but there isn't one single star to rely on.
Outlook: The opportunity is there for one back to step up and turn into the main man. It would be nice if the Utes had a regular 15-20 carry back who could average around five yards per carry, but they don't appear to have one. Expect the dreaded running-back-by-committee until one emerges midway through the year. 
Rating: 6


Receivers


Projected Starters: Everyone's back giving Brian Johnson several veteran targets to work with. The steadiest of the bunch is senior Derrek Richards, a lighting fast blur on the outside who led the team with 60 catches for 717 yards and six touchdowns. Considering all his speed, he hasn't hit many home runs with no 100-yard games and the the longest gain a paltry 38 yards.

The most dangerous receiver, at least at the end of last year, is junior Brent Casteel, who led the team with ten touchdown grabs scoring seven times in the final five games. Mostly a possession receiver before last season, he started to show off his 4.5 speed and began to break out.

Senior Brian Hernandez is a tough 6-0 and 175 pounds who's been a main target for the last two season catching 86 passes for 1,133 yards and four touchdowns. He's been around the block and then some coming to Utah as a JUCO transfer after starting out at Georgia Tech before going to Arizona State before moving to Pima CC.

6-1, 251-pound senior tight end Matt Sims is more like a pass catching fullback, although he only made four grabs for 62 yards last season. He'll likely be used more with Johnson under center.

Projected Top Reserves: The reserves are almost as good as the starters with almost as much experience. Junior Marquis Wilson averaged 15.9 yards per catch making 25 grabs for 398 yards and three touchdowns. He didn't get the ball thrown his way all that often over the second half of the year, but he tended to make the most of his catches highlighted by his one grab for a 57-yard score against BYU. He's terrific when he gets the ball on the move.

Junior Freddie Brown is a big, physical option at 6-3 and 207 pounds. After doing next to nothing over the first half of last year with just three catches in the first six games, he got into the mix with 14 catches over the final seven.

Also adding a big body is 6-3 junior Brandon Godfrey, who has some of the best hand on the team and nice deep speed leading the top six receivers with a 16.4 yard-per-catch average. He combines with Hernandez for a spot.

Junior Colt Sampson and redshirt freshman Paul Kruger are tall pass catching possibilities at tight end as opposed to the shorter Sims. Sampson only caught three passes with two going for short touchdowns.

Watch Out For ... the interchangeable parts. The Utes almost have more experienced veteran talent than the rest of the Mountain West combined, and all can play. While Richards can likely be categorized as a number one receiver, anyone can fill the role on a given day. 
Strength
:
Depth. There are six quality receivers who can all start if needed. There's a little of everything with several different options to work with.
Weakness
:
Tight end. There are three decent prospects, but no one stands out yet as reliable short-range receiver, although Sampson is developing into a dangerous goal line option.
Outlook: The Utes are loaded with experience and talent, and now it's time for everyone to start doing more. More consistency, more big plays, and more home runs are a must for a corps with so many viable weapons. While the backs and tight ends are involved in the passing game, the wide receivers are the focus with the top six pass catchers last year all wideouts. That won't change.
Rating: 8

Offensive Linemen

Projected Starters: Step one is to replace all-star tackle Tavo Tupola, and it'll be up to senior Jeremy Inferrera to give it a shot. The 6-3, 296-pound veteran backup has seen plenty of action over the years, and even got a star on the left side in place of Tupola in the win over Utah State, so he's not starting from scratch. The former Hawaii transfer is a good athlete who can play canter if needed.

There's no concern on the other side where 6-4, 300-pound senior Jason Boone is poised for an all-star season at right tackle. He's a two-year starter who's fantastic in pass protection and will now get the Mountain West spotlight to himself with Tupola gone.

Also a sure thing for the All-Mountain West team will be right guard Robert Conley, arguably the team's best run blocker. He's 6-1, 316 pounds and extremely strong going from a raw prospect to a weight room warrior and a tough veteran.

304-pound senior Kyle Gunther started every game last season after moving over from guard. He's a big blocker who might not be Boone or Conley, but more than holds his own. Sophomore left guard Zane Beadles is a 6-4, 312-pound rock. A star recruit a few years ago, he's starting to live up to the expectations.

Projected Top Reserves: Junior tackle Dustin Hensel represents the bulk of the experience among the backups. At 6-7 and 320 pounds, he's a monster of a pass protector on the right side behind Boone, but he can move to the left side if needed. He's a good athlete for a player of his size.

Getting the first shot behind Inferrera on the left side is Walter Watts, a 6-2, 300-pound redshirt freshman who got in better shape over the last year and should quickly be a key contributor.

6-5, 300-pound redshirt freshman Caleb Schlauderauff is the main guard backup starting out on the left side behind Beadles. While Watts has slimmed down, Schlauderauff has beefed up. Already one of the team's strongest players, he'll grow into a good one after he gets a little bit of time.

6-3, 305-pound redshirt freshman Zane Taylor came to Utah a defensive tackle and moved over to the offensive side. Now he'll back up Conley on the right side.

Watch Out For ... this to be one of the Mountain West's best offensive lines, if not the best. With four returning starters and a fifth (Inferrera) who's good enough to step in without missing a beat, the Utes will be tremendous.
Strength
:
Size. Along with the experience, this is a big, athletic line averaging 307 pounds per man. It's not slow and stodgy; this is an athletic group that can move.
Weakness
:
Depth. While the young prospects are terrific, there's almost no experience whatsoever behind the starting five. Things wouldn't be disastrous if injuries hit, but they'd better not come early on.
Outlook: There's no excuse if the skill players don't blow up. They're going to have all the time in the world to operate behind this group of veterans. There are four legitimate all-conference players with Inferrera also a top talent. Now that everyone knows what they're doing, the pass protection should just as good after allowing just 15 sacks, and the holes should open up wider for the running game. 
Rating: 7.5

  

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