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Utah Football: Utes' 2019 Spring Preview

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Utah Football: Utes' 2019 Spring Preview

Utah Football: Utes' 2019 Spring Preview

After claiming a first-ever Pac-12 South title last season, Utah enters the spring with high expectations. The Utes return key playmakers at quarterback, running back, receiver, tight end, cornerback, and on the defensive line. With so much returning experience and talent, Utah is already being tabbed as a favorite to repeat as divisional champs. The Utes are a preseason Top 25 selection in many polls — including a No. 16 ranking from Athlon Sports.

Utah will still have some new wrinkles in 2019. Chief among those is a new offense under coordinator Andy Ludwig. This is the second stint for Ludwig with the Utes. He originally served as Utah's offensive coordinator from 2005-08 and helped the Utes reach the Sugar Bowl and finish No. 2 nationally in his final season.

5 Storylines to Watch During Utah's Spring Practices

1. Will Tyler Huntley get a push at quarterback?

Can Huntley stay healthy going into his senior season? Huntley suffered a season-ending injury when he broke his collarbone against Arizona State in the first week of November. It is the second major injury in two years for the senior. When Huntley is healthy, he's a dynamic runner and efficient passer. Huntley completed 64 percent of his passes last season while throwing for 1,788 yards and 12 touchdowns. He also ran for 304 yards. Jason Shelley, who filled in after Huntley went down, could give him a push in spring practices. Shelley started the final five games and threw for 1,162 yards as a redshirt freshman. Texas transfer Cameron Rising could be in the mix as well if the NCAA allows him to play immediately in 2019.

2. Who will emerge on the offensive line?

One place on offense where Utah will need to fill holes this season is on the line. All-Pac-12 first-team selections Jackson Barton and Jordan Agasiva have graduated along with starting center Lo Falemaka. The Utes have plenty of depth up front, but not a ton of experience to complement returning starters Darrin Paulo and Orlando Umana. Part-time starters Nick Ford and Paul Toala are favorites to take on a bigger role. Mo Unutoa, Braeden Daniels, Paul Maile, and Simi Moala will all be in the mix too as the Utes try to figure out a solid starting five.

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3. Who will emerge at linebacker?

Both of last season's starting linebackers, Chase Hansen and Cody Barton, have graduated. The duo leaves some huge shoes to fill after combining for 230 tackles and 32.5 tackles for a loss a year ago. Francis Bernard is expected to start at one linebacker spot this fall, but he will not participate in spring practices because of an injury. Penn State transfer Manny Bowen is a favorite to lock down the other spot. Devin Lloyd, Sione Lund, and Andrew Mata’afa will all get a shot to earn spots in the two-deep behind Bernard and Bowen.

4. Secondary position changes

Julian Blackmon will shift from right cornerback to free safety for his final season. Blackmon has ideal range and speed for the position. He earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors each of the last two seasons and led the Utes with 10 pass breakups in 2018. Blackmon made the change to help fill holes left behind by Corrion Ballard and Marquise Blair. Tareke Lewis will get first crack to take over at right cornerback. Bronson Boyd will join the secondary after playing at receiver last season. Tyrone Young-Smith will go back to receiver after spending the last couple of years in the secondary.

5. New-look special teams

Utah will face the task of replacing Matt Gay and Mitch Wishnowsky. The duo helped the Utes have one of the nation's best special teams units over the past couple of seasons. Gay's likely successor is Chayden Johnston. The junior battled Gay for the starting job before the 2017 season and is an accurate kicker. Utah will tap into its Australian pipeline with new punter Ben Lennon. Before joining the Utes, Lennon spent four seasons playing in the Australian Football League. He played in 21 matches of Australian Rules Football for Richmond Football Club after being selected in the first round of the 2013 AFL Draft.

— Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports and many others. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.