SALT LAKE CITY — You can ask Tyler Huntley about the starting quarterback position on the University of Utah’s football team, if you must, but there’s no question in his mind which playmaker will be taking snaps behind center this fall.
Spoiler alert: It’s him.
“One hundred percent,” Huntley said. “It’s 100 percent.”
The fact that he’s getting about 50 percent of the spring snaps — incoming four-star QB Jake Tuttle, redshirt freshman Jason Shelley and walk-on Drew Lisk split the others — is a good indication where the coaching staff is leaning.
There’s a reason for his confidence. Huntley has a year of experience under his belt in Utah offensive coordinator Troy Taylor’s system, and he believes he learned valuable lessons while experiencing some highs and lows as the starting quarterback as a sophomore last year.
“I definitely feel 100 percent comfortable in the system that we’re running,” Huntley said this week after one of the Utes’ spring practices.
His coaches have noticed that from Huntley, who threw for 2,411 yards on 199-for-312 passing with 15 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He also ran for 537 yards and six TDs.
“Tyler’s done a great job of just continuing to stay hungry and improve and be more detailed with his preparation,” Taylor said. “When you’re in the system for a year, you’re going to be more comfortable and hopefully make better decisions, and I think he’s doing that.”
Along with that increased comfort factor — a big deal at this level — Huntley said he learned to pick and choose when he leaves the pocket to scramble. After missing multiple games in 2017 from a shoulder injury, he now realizes that he can’t escape the pocket too quickly.
“You want to limit the amount of times he gets hit, but sometimes that the best part of your run game and you’ve got to utilize it. It’s a balancing act,” Taylor said.
“He’s pretty good on the zone read and power read. He’s probably at 90 percent on his decision making.”
Taylor said Huntley needs to minimize the amount of times he gets hit by running out of bounds or simply throwing the ball away. Better to lose a down than a quarterback. He’ll have Zack Moss and Armand Shyne in the backfield to bolster the run game, too. But his run-pass option is a valuable weapon the Utes still plan on using.
“I think he learned some valuable lessons this past year how important it is to be healthy,” Taylor said. “… We want Zack to carry the ball a lot more than Tyler, but Tyler will still have a role in the run game, but hopefully more RPOs and (in) power read, zone read.”
Hoping to improve his durability and effectiveness, Huntley has worked hard this winter to add some bulk. The 6-foot-1 QB gained about 10 pounds with the help of the team’s nutritionist — pounding more food and drinking protein shakes along with weightlifting — and weighs in at 195 pounds. He hopes to add even more good weight over the spring and summer, knowing that he’ll likely drop some pounds during fall camp like he did last year.
“My focus,” Huntley said, “is just mainly gaining more weight and then just staying more stable in the pocket, just bettering myself in the system.”
Huntley said the addition of Tuttle has helped him improve.
“He’s definitely made me a better quarterback,” Huntley said. “He’s a good kid. He’s just working hard.”
The highly touted drop-back passer from San Marcos, California, hopes to give the coaches a hard decision about the starting job this fall during a friendly competition with Huntley.
“Tyler and I are teammates. We’re brothers. We’re on the same team so we’re obviously going to support each other,” Tuttle said. “But it’s competition. We’re going to try to make each other better. … He’s a competitor. He wants to win. He’s trying to push himself as well as all the rest of us out here. He’s a good guy.”
Taylor liked that Huntley finished strong after working through the rough stretch he had during his sophomore season when he returned from his injury and looked rusty for a while.
“When a guy’s young especially, those breaks sometimes can affect you,” Taylor said. “… He played well at the end of the year.”
Taylor sees increased leadership from Huntley, who can be gregarious and quiet.
“He’s more of an introvert, but that’s OK. You lead by example,” Taylor said. “They see his competitive spirit and how hard he works, and that’s the best way to lead.”
They know one thing for sure: Huntley is 100 percent confident in himself. The QB is optimistic about the whole offense, too.
“We’re going to be solid at every position,” Huntley said. “We’re going to look like we know what we’re doing out there.”
Former quarterback and converted linebacker Chase Hansen echoes that sentiment.
“I feel like this is the hardest offense to play against since I’ve been here, just because they have so many dynamics,” Hansen said of the Utah offense. “They have the QB run. They have these false keys. It’s really hard to play against them, especially when they’re moving quick.”