Utah Football: Utes' 2020 Spring Preview

Kyle Whittingham and the Utes have key questions on both sides of the ball to address

Utah has a goal in mind when it starts spring football practices this week. The Utes want to prove they can reload instead of rebuild and continue their reign atop the Pac-12 South.

 

It will not be a simple task. Utah graduated numerous starters on defense and must replace their starting quarterback and top running back on offense. For most teams, that's a formula for taking a few steps back. Utah does have enough talent across the board, however, that the Utes have a decent shot at making another Pac-12 South title push.

 

Spring practices, culminating in the team's annual Red and White Game in April, will shed some light on how much progress Utah is making toward remaining a division heavyweight.

 

5 Storylines to Watch During Utah's Spring Practice

 

1. Which quarterback will emerge as Tyler Huntley's successor?

Figuring out who will run the offense now that Huntley has graduated is the biggest question facing the Utes heading into the 2020 season. Jason Shelley, a part-time starter two seasons ago, transferred out of the program. Utah isn't hurting for good options at quarterback. Redshirt sophomore Cameron Rising and graduate transfer Jake Bentley are the likely candidates to win the starting job. Bentley has the experience after throwing for 7,527 yards and 55 touchdowns over four seasons at South Carolina. Rising ran the scout team as its quarterback last season and impressed coaches and teammates with his mobility and throwing ability. This battle may extend into fall camp before anything is decided.

 

2. Who will step up to replace Zack Moss in the backfield?

Replacing a running back as dominant as Moss is never easy. The good news for Utah is there are plenty of candidates in the backfield who can emerge as the team's primary back. Devin Brumfield and Jordan Wilmore are the most likely candidates to fill the empty spot Moss left behind. Both players saw some spot action behind Moss last season. Brumfield is an excellent blocker and has good breakaway speed. He is the team's top returning rusher, averaging 4.7 yards per carry while running for 263 yards and two touchdowns. Wilmore is built like a prototypical Utah back and showed some tantalizing speed and athleticism as a freshman last season. He racked up 194 yards and a touchdown while averaging 4.0 yards per carry.

 

3. Can the Utes reload in the secondary?

Utah is in a rare position of replacing all five starting defensive backs from last season. The Utes have promising young talent in the secondary, but inexperience will be a major issue. Starting jobs and spots in the rotation are wide open. Clark Phillips III, Utah's highest-rated freshman ever, figures to emerge at either cornerback or nickelback. Phillips has all the tools to be an impact player from day one. Bronson Boyd and JaTravis Broughton will also be in the mix at cornerback. Broughton was in the two-deep as a freshman. Boyd, a former receiver, gained valuable experience on special teams. R.J Hubert will be one of the safeties, but will not play in spring ball while he recovers from a knee injury. Vonte Davis has the experience to claim the other safety spot.

 

4. Who will fill the other linebacker spot?

Devin Lloyd enjoyed a breakout season at linebacker a year ago and is one of the few returning starters for Utah's defense. Lloyd led the Utes with 91 tackles as a sophomore, including 11.0 tackles for a loss and 6.5 sacks. With Francis Bernard graduated, Utah is looking to shore up the other linebacker spot alongside the Utes' junior standout. Sione Lund saw plenty of reps as a backup linebacker last season and figures to have the inside track. Nephi Sewell, who is moving up from safety, has great instincts and could push Lund for the starting job.

 

5. What will the offense look like in Andy Ludwig's second season?

Utah had a productive and efficient offense in year one of Ludwig's second stint at offensive coordinator. The Utes established a clear identity as a power-running team with Moss in the backfield. That could change a bit this season. Utah will still run the ball any chance it gets, but the Utes have plenty of skilled playmakers at receiver and tight end to put more emphasis on a passing attack. Brant Kuithe was a breakout star at tight end late in 2019 and finished with 602 yards and six touchdowns on 34 catches to become Utah's leading receiver. Britain Covey should be fully recovered from the knee injury that shut him down early last season. Jaylen Dixon, Samson Nacua, and Solomon Enis all have the potential to emerge as game-changing receivers.

 

— 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.

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