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Ute Insiders: Storylines and surprises from Ute spring football camp (podcast)

Quarterbacks Jason Shelley and Tyler Huntley run drills during a University of Utah football practice at the Eccles Football Center in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, March 26, 2019.
Quarterbacks Jason Shelley and Tyler Huntley run drills during a University of Utah football practice at the Eccles Football Center in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, March 26, 2019.
Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

Ute Insiders Dirk Facer and Trent Wood break down the comings and goings from Utah spring football camp. They also discuss Ute Pro Day, where scouts from all 32 NFL teams were present, stop watches in tow. Who from this batch of NFL hopefuls will be playing on Sundays? Facer and Wood also talk Ute hoops — men and women — and Utah gymnastics. That and more on this week’s episode.

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Editor’s note: The following is a transcript of the episode. It's been edited for clarity.

Dirk Facer: On this edition of the Deseret News Ute insiders podcast we talk spring football, college basketball and Trent Wood catches up with Utah gymnastics coach Megan Marsden for our Utah by 5 segment. This and more on the Deseret News Ute Insiders podcast.

Welcome to another edition of the desert news Ute insiders podcast. Dirk Facer and Trent Wood. A little old, little new here today. Trent, how are you?

Trent Wood: I'm doing well, how are you?

DF: Good and ready to talk some football and gymnastics, maybe throw some hoops in there. All right. Well, let's start with spring football. Trent, you've been up there a couple times. What are the compelling storylines as far as you're concerned? I think a lot of people that were excited about Manny Bowen coming at linebacker and Cameron Rising coming at quarterback. But the fact is, that's nearly not the most compelling story lines, is it?

TW: No, I feel like the most compelling storylines have to come from the biggest question marks on the team which offensively you have to say that's the offensive line and maybe the wide receivers, and then on defense it has to be the linebackers and safeties. And I feel like that's what people want answers to and they might not get them from spring football.

DF: No, you know spring football is not my favorite thing to cover because a lot of times we write about guys that never see the field in the fall. Fact is, you know, there's a lot of positions that are up for grabs. I know they have some people coming in in the fall that they think will earn some of these spots. But obviously there's going to be some guys that earn some playing time this spring. You had a chance to talk to Cameron Rising the other day and there's a lot of intrigue. Texas transfer. Is he the future quarterback for the Utes do you think?

TW: I did get the chance to talk to him and he was great to talk to. I think Utah fans will love him if he ever gets to be that starter. They'll love everything he has to say. It was interesting talking to him. I talked to him about the adjustment coming from Texas to Utah. Texas runs spread shotgun sets all the time and under Andy Ludwig, that's not the case. So spring ball is a lot of under center things. And he talks about how that's a little bit difficult right now. He's learning it and he played it in high school, but he's still figuring it out. And I know yesterday he was the fourth-string quarterback. And that's probably because he's not eligible, at least as far as we know, to play. But he's not getting all the reps in the world. And I think it's in part because he's trying to understand the offense.

DF: Well, you know, they're trying to get him eligible, to make him immediately eligible as a transfer they're kind of going with this argument that I believe it was a criminology degree you can get at Utah that you can't get a Texas, so he transferred for quote-unquote, educational reasons. And I don't know if that's going to hold up very well with the NCAA. As such, until they get everything clarified, they're not going to pour a lot of reps into him because if he can't play next season, he can't play next season. And you got three other guys that could use the reps. Looking at Tyler Huntley, do you think he's getting pushed at all by Jason Shelley or Drew Lisk, or do you think since he's a senior, even though he's changing offensive coordinators, do you feel like he's still the guy?

TW: I feel like he has to be the guy. And in every practice it seems like he is the guy. He's getting all the first team reps. I know Jason Shelley comes in for a little bit, but it's mostly Tyler Huntley. And I feel like it's his job unless some injury happens again.

DF: And if you want to know where Tyler Huntley stands, just ask him. He's not shy about saying, I'm the starter. They're gonna have to pry it from his king fu grip, I think, to get it away from him. What about let's jump over to the defense little bit, Manny Bowen, the transfer from Penn State. He's come in and been really good with the media. Players and coaches alike have spoke highly of him. He's coming in at a good time because they need some linebacker help.

TW: They do. He's going to get to play and he's going to get to play a lot. And I know you talked to Bradlee Anae about him and he said that he was pretty excited about him. Right?

DF: He is, you know, he's very excited about him. And, you know, the one thing that the coaches and everybody likes is they're not having to groom a young guy to step in for losing Chase Hansen and Cody Barton. They got a guy that's played Big Ten football and started and played a lot of games. And plus let's remember this. He's playing for an NFL career right now too. So it behooves him to have a good season.

TW: Yeah, for sure. It seems as though the transfer portal has kind of worked out so far for Utah, even though they've lost a few players to it.

DF: Let's talk about spring ball a little bit. I was talking to Coach Whittingham earlier this week. And he mentioned that, you know, the emphasis now is kind of on staying healthy. And the ones aren't going to necessarily get a lot of reps the rest of the way and in the scrimmage that's coming up Saturday, they're not necessarily going to see any action. It's all about the twos and the threes. Think that's a wise move? I mean, staying healthy, you can't argue with that. But you know, we talked before the show that you know, like with going to bowl games, you get those extra practices and most of the time those are used to help the young guys get some reps. Can the guys get reps without getting too physical?

TW: Yeah, it's interesting. I think because spring football is so removed from the fall that it feels like it should be reserved for getting the backups caught up a little bit and developing depth, because you're not really going to get your starters into game-ready shape and game ready play ability in spring, that'd be pointless because then you go to summer and sit around for four months. So it does feel like spring is all about getting your backups, your twos and your threes, at least to where they could fill in come fall.

DF: Before we switch gears and talk about pro day, any names you're hearing from Utes, players that are making a name for themselves this spring other than the guys were talking about?

TW: I mean, obviously it's spring, like you said, so we hear about guys that maybe won't show up again, but all the wide receivers and Guy Holladay, the head coach of the wide receivers, talked about a walk on who I think he's last name is Von. I don't remember his first name off the top my head, but he's a walk on from California. He's 6-foot-4 and like 180 pounds and they love him. They are completely shocked by what he's bringing to the table. They think he's going to contribute. So that's one of those names that spring football you get. He's the only one they would talk about because they're all super excited about him.

DF: And you know there's been a lot of other storylines that have kind of popped up a little bit. Armand Shyne's decision to transfer and go to the transfer portal, like you talked about. Coach Whittingham said that was all about playing time, he saw the writing on the wall being a senior backing up Zach Moss, the Utes have some young running backs coming in, he just wants to play. Any guess about where a guy like that could land? Do you think he'd be wise maybe to drop down a level and step right in?

TW: Yeah I know that he's going to graduate in the spring, right?

DF: Right and then he'll be immediately eligible.

TW: So if I would assume I'd assume he's not going to a power five team because the odds of getting immediate playing time aren't great going to a power five team. But if he went to a Mountain West team or a WAC team or something he could probably start right away and get all the carries he wanted.

DF: Yeah maybe Cedar City would be a good location, who knows. Let's talk about pro day. Today is Wednesday when we're taping this and pro day is tomorrow. And the Utes, all 13 of their seniors are participating. And this is unique and this doesn't happen a lot, but all 32 NFL teams are going to be there. Lot of times you get, you know, 20 something or whatever, but they're expecting all 32 teams. That's obviously because of some of the guys in the class here and we went over a few of them. You know, we got the Barton brothers of course and you got Chase Hansen and Mitch Wishnowsky, Matt Gay. And then the safeties, Corrion Ballard and Marquise Blair kind of highlight this class. Do you see a good, valid reason why the NFL would be so interested in this year's crop of Utes?

TW: Yeah, I mean, there are certain players in this group that you think are going to get drafted and they're going to be solid contributory NFL players. I mean, you look at Chase Hansen, he's excelled everywhere he's played football. So the odds are that he'll probably excel in the NFL. And then you have Marquise Blair, people love his athleticism and his aggression. It got him into trouble last year with targeting penalties but I mean people love how hard he plays. THen you have Jackson Barton who is a massive human being and on the offensive line, that's what you want is a guy who's that big and that strong to control the offensive line. So it does seem like there are guys that Utah is sending that are legitimate NFL prospects.

DF: You know, and the interesting thing is Coach Whit told me that as much interest is this year's group has, there's a lot of interest in next year's class, even this early. Especially on defense, and, you know, I guess we can wait till next year to talk about that, but this year's pro day should be interesting. Unfortunately, it's closed to the public. But us media types, we're able to sneak in there and watch. It's really interesting. They really put them through the ringers, you know, they measure their height and weight and everything and they have them jump and they run and do agility drills, and then a lot of times some of the scouts will pull a guy aside and have him do a specific drill to the position and go over and these guys all leave with their clipboards and their NFL hats on and they don't tell you anything. Keep it kind of close to the vest. But pro day is a fun thing and I think it's flattering, like I said, that every NFL team has said they're coming.

TW: Yeah, it means somebody's good.

DF: Let's jump to college hoops a little bit. First of all let's maybe address the Dave Rose situation. After 14 years retiring and that. College basketball coaching is a grind, isn't it? I mean it really takes a toll if you think about it. I see Coach Krystkowiak and the crew. Those guys put a lot of time in just to prepare for any game, you know, and it's consuming isn't it?

TW: Yeah. And then it all comes down to the end of the year and it's one loss and go home and if you don't make it to the tournaments where that's the thing, it's an even bigger disappointment. So it does feel like it doesn't altogether matter what you do during the season. It matters what you do at the end.

DF: And speaking of the end, it's been a while since the Utah men have been to the NCAA Tournament, finished the season 17-14 this year did not even receive an NIT and they weren't interested in playing anything lower than that. Do you think there's a cause for concern up there? That it's been several years since the Utes have made it, and then this year not to even go to the NIT?

TW: It's an interesting question. And I don't know how much of a concern you can put on it, considering there seems to be a lot of roster turnover at Utah, whether it's for transfers or people going to the NBA or leaving the school. It just seems like there's a lot of roster turnover and there's no continuity. And Utah doesn't recruit a high enough level of athlete that you can get away with having no continuity, like those big Duke or Kentucky teams. So I don't know if it's super concerning because they do have a lot of kids and if they stay, they're young and they got better as the year went on. It's just a question to me of are they going to stay? Because they haven't in the past few years.

DF: Yeah, well, and then you look at some guys that have played very well and left early for the NBA in Jakob Poeltl and Kyle Kuzma. And that leaves huge voids. You imagine if those guys came back for their senior seasons we might be talking about something different. I don't think they'd have a big gap of postseason play. Do you think there's any concern — Coach K's contract contains no buyout. In other words, if they released him they have to pay him for the full amount of what's due on the contract and he's getting $3.8 million a year. It's a lot of money. I think he's got two more years left on the contract. Do you think a coaching change is imminent there? Because I don't and I think it might be on financial grounds. And plus they had three really good freshman this year and they've got some other promising guys coming in, so I kind of see the situation improving next year.

TW: Yeah iI don't think he's in danger of being fired yet, i don't think that's the thing at all. I think at the end of his contract who knows what will happen. But at this point I don't see it being a thing.

DF: What about going into a lame duck situation? He's kind of playing for another extension or contract this year because I don't remember if it's two or three more years he has left, I think it's two. But anyway you don't want to go into that last year under the last year of a contract.

TW: That's true. He does seem to always overachieve, at least as far as media expectations go for the team, the team is always supposed to be one of the worst in the Pac-12 and then they always end up in the middle or upper half. So I don't know if you can look at that and say that he's not a good coach, it just seems like people want more than what he's giving.

DF: Are they the victim of a bad conference? You could argue one thing and say they should win more games because the Pac-12 is so bad. But the fact is the Pac-12 doesn't have a good reputation in college basketball right now of being a talented conference.

TW: I'd say that and their preseason schedule is often light, they often play teams that aren't very good. So they're not building those out of conference games, whether they're wins or losses, that maybe a team like ASU did. I think if they improved their nonconference schedule, it might help. Because they rely heavily on Pac-12 play. So if the Pac-12 is not good it's not going to help them be able to get into tournaments with 17 wins.

DF: Yeah, and interestingly enough, this year, they did kind of upgrade, obviously playing NCAA teams at Kentucky, Minnesota, Nevada. I think they lost all three of those games. And, you know, maybe you win one or two of those and that's a different story too. But then you're closer to 20 wins as well, which also changes the dynamics of things. It'll be interesting next year. One thing I think Utah needs to do is get off their high horse a little bit and play the local teams. I know a lot of fans I've talked to would rather go to the Huntsman Center and see Utah play Weber State or Utah State or even Southern Utah rather than some of these schools that parade through here and Utah beats 90-45. That might help with the local interest too, and those teams are good that they'd play, and could conceivably make the team better playing better competition, like you said.

How about for the women? Lynne Roberts team had a good year, they went 20-11 and opted not even be considered for a WNIT bid. And there's more to that than meets the eye. Obviously they were down to seven players, it's hard to have practice with seven players. And then the other fact is the WNIT is not run by the NCAA, like the NIT is. It can be a costly place to go get some extra games just because there's no oversight and no NCAA money involved. So, I mean, do you think they did the right thing saying, let's pull the plug and get ready for next year? Because they did have a heck of a year.

TW: They did, and it does seem like the NIT or tournaments like that are more for development of young players and Utah didn't need to do that because all their young players played all season long. So any added extra development wasn't really necessary. And they only had seven players. So I get the decision to not do it because there wasn't really anything to gain from playing any more basketball.

DF: Yeah. And that's interesting because it's going to change the dynamic as well. People saying, Well, you didn't go the NCAA or the NIT, not necessarily true on the latter, especially with the Utah women because they will almost certainly have been a WNIT team. And you know, the Pac-12 is showing their strength in the women's tournament this year, it's a great conference, unlike the men.

We're done with college hoops. Let's switch over to gymnastics. You're the expert here, the Red Rocks came up a little bit short at the Pac-12 championships. Tell us about the Pac-12 championships. Obviously UCLA just has a juggernaut of a team.

TW: That was Utah gymnastics best meet of the year. And I would say their best in two years. They had a better score last year against Georgia at home, but it was senior night and it felt like the judging was a little bit, let's be nice because it was senior night. Whereas this was a neutral site game officially, even though it was in West Valley, Utah, and it was four judges on every event, which is a big deal compared to two judges. The scoring is more accurate. And they got a score that almost in every other meet would have won the meet. It's just UCLA got the best score of the year from any team in any meet this year in that meet. So Utah felt great after the Pac-12 championships. They lost so they were bummed, but they felt great.

DF: Well, I love this postseason format. It's changed obviously, but how about regionals, sending them to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, of all places. Is BYU going there too?

TW: BYU is going too. It used to be for years that there were six regionals and six teams would compete at each regional. But they decided to streamline it to make the meets better, so that teams didn't sit around and wait to go. So there's now only for regionals and four teams compete in different sessions over a three-day period. And so yeah, they get to go to Baton Rouge, they get a face off against LSU which is the No. 3 team in the country, and they already went against the LSU this year and LSU beat them barely. They get to go against BYU again, they get to face Auburn who has a former Utah assistant who's their head coach. So there's a lot of fun little story lines with them going to Baton Rouge. And they haven't competed, I learned, in Baton Rouge since the year 2000. So it's been a while, so they're actually really pumped to get to go to a place that they don't get to compete often.

DF: From what I've heard, Oregon State was the only one that is hosting a regional out west. If you host you get to participate at home, so staying out west probably really wasn't even an option at this point. UCLA's going to Michigan, right?

TW: UCLA's going to Michigan. And they don't do the regionals based off of how, like the hosts aren't the best teams. That's not how it works. They try to move it around to get different regionals at different parts of the country. And so most of the hosting teams are not the best teams in the regionals that they're hosting.

DF: All right, well, we'll see how things go. You had a chance to catch up with Megan Marsden, the coach and talk about the postseason format. Why don't we go ahead and play that for you?

TW: Normally, this is Dirk Facer's thing but I'm here for Utah by 5 with Utah gymnastics co-head coach Megan Marsden. Megan, how are you? Glad that you get to talk to me today. A couple questions for you. Really easy, first one, you guys obviously had an incredible, incredible meet over the weekend. Talk about that Pac-12 championship.

Megan Marsden: Well, it was really exciting and some of it had to do with just the atmosphere in the arena and having a lot of our fans there with us, and then having our team show up and compete as well as they did. It was a thrill to find out that we had scored our first 198 of the year, all those things were great, but of course, a little sting in the fact that that wasn't good enough for a win. It was tough. I know the team was, you know, they thought and Tom and I told them, there's not very many times that 198 doesn't get you all that you want. And so, as we look back, I think we'll try to use that as continued motivation to improve and be even better in the next competition.

TW: This team has made history this year with team scores of 197. Is that something you expected coming into the year? What makes this team different?

MM: Well, I think that shows you how consistent they are. They've been showing consistency week in and week out and as we move into postseason and we need to put together back-to-back nights possibly, we're hoping, more than one time you want your athletes to feel like they can bring it anytime. And they've shown that they can do that. And so, you know, as we went through the season, there were a day or two here, there were this person had a little trouble or this person, but at no point did one person's problem create several problems. And I think that's really important as you go into postseason. The pressure will be high. And we will continue to try to take a little pressure off as best we can, and see if we can continue to move through to the national championships.

TW: I know in past years, there was a worry about peaking early and it seems like this year the team is peaking at the right time, as opposed to maybe in the past.

MM: That's what Tom and I feel like as we watch what's going on. We feel like it's a little different than last year, and that may, in fact, be the case. Certainly we'd like people to know that by design, we've tried to create that. And, you know, sometimes you don't know if it's luck or design but we certainly knew that was maybe a mistake of last year that we were just an ounce early. And so both Tom and I know quite a bit about kind of cycling your team through the training schedule of the year and when they can be peaking with that. He likes to say this between the two of us, I think we have like 55 some years of experience. So I feel like we have by design tried to create a situation where our athletes still have a little bit left as we move into the last part of the year.

TW: OK. And then obviously today they just announced the regionals for nationals and regionals. You guys are in LSU's region. Thoughts on that?

MM: It's what we had figured out was possibly the case. And I'm really excited about this regional. First of all, I think that LSU, we haven't competed there in many, many years. So I'm excited for our girls to go somewhere new. I overheard one of them saying hope it's not here because I hurt my ankle there and you know they have these things in their mind. I think sometimes going to a fresh place can be a good thing. I also know that LSU will be great hosts. And I know they put on an incredible meet. And they have newly, in the last five to eight years, put together a great fan base that I'm sure will come out to watch their team in a regional competition. Our team likes that, they like a championship field. They like a big fan base, whether it's ours or not. I think they'd rather compete in front of a lot of people than a more empty arena. So I'm excited that at that regional I think that will be definitely the case.

TW: Regionals have changed this year, it was a long time in the making. Can you kind of describe the difference between this postseason and last?

MM: Well, Tom came up with a great little phrase that I like that we can use from this point moving forward: two and through. And that means basically, in each meet that we're in from this point forward, you have to be in the top two to get to move on. So the averages and scores don't really matter anymore. Everybody's at zero. And we will be competing on Friday at regionals. We compete in the afternoon. And there are three other teams we compete against. And we have to be top two to move on to Saturday, and then on Saturday we'll compete with three other teams and we have to be top two to move on to the national championships. So that's a simplified form of it. But then there's a little more complicating things to that. But I think for our athletes and for us, the simpler the better. We need to be top two and move on. If we happen to be first, great, but there's not any gigantic advantage of that at this point. And if we can keep moving forward, then on the last day we'll have to come up with a different slogan because that won't quite fit for a final finish.

TW: It's true. And then one last thing, BYU is in your regional and people from the state of Utah care immensely about that rivalry. You get to face them again, two times past two years, two times in a season. What is that rivalry like?

MM: Well, I think that's a bonus to this competition for both teams. I think that we bring out the best in each other. And I know that my girls right away cheered loud when they found out BYU was going to be in our competition down there because a chance to go against BYU. I mean, who doesn't love that if you're Utah fans. So I think it's good. I'm sure that they did the same thing when they found out Utah was in their rotation. I bet they're excited because they know that they'll rise to the occasion and I think we will too.

TW: Megan is great to talk to. A lot of people don't know this but she is the greatest coach to talk to in the world. She'll tell you anything you want to know, which you could hear in that interview that I got to do and she's great and that team is excited. That was the moral of the story is they are excited for the postseason.

DF: Do you like the postseason format? Do you think it's good for college gymnastics?

TW: Yeah, it makes it more compelling and it makes it harder to get to the national championships, which has been Utah's claim to fame. They've never missed an NCAA championships, they're heading for their 44th in a row. And so it'll make it more difficult. But I think it does make it more compelling, better teams will be in the final as opposed to having some teams that maybe shouldn't be there.

DF: Well, we're going to wrap this thing up. Big week for football. Their first spring scrimmage is on Saturday and then pro day obviously on Thursday. Do you see any surprises coming from either event this week?

TW: I don't know about surprises. But they should be fun, right?

DF: They should. Fans are invited to go to the stadium and watch the scrimmage that starts at 10 a.m. on Saturday. And one of the most interesting things probably will be to see what the offense looks like under Andy Ludwig. They've only installed about half of the offense. But it's going to be different and they'll be interesting to see. What do you expect to see out of the offense? We've been to practice a little bit. Do you think the receivers will have a bigger role in this? Or do you think it's just going to be vanilla football because it's spring?

TW: I feel like it's gonna be a lot of running backs and a lot of tight ends.

DF: Yeah, I agree with you. Well, folks, thanks for listening. Just a reminder, you can catch the podcast on Apple podcasts or Google Play or any of those cool websites you young uns know how to find podcasts. is always a good place, especially for us older guys, because it's easier to navigate. Thanks for listening and we'll see you later.