SALT LAKE CITY — It took longer than many expected, but Utah has officially named its starting quarterback.
Thursday morning, the school released its depth chart ahead of the season opener in one week against Weber State, with senior Charlie Brewer listed as the starter with Cam Rising listed as the backup.
Of course, it wasn’t a big surprise that Brewer, who passed for 9,700 yards at Baylor before transferring to Utah was named the starter, but it was surprising that the battle lasted as long as it did.
Brewer, who has been named to the preseason watch lists for the Davey O’Brien Award (nation’s best college quarterback) and Maxwell Award (college player of the year), has started 39 career games while Rising has one start under his belt.
But coach Kyle Whittingham insisted both quarterbacks were “neck and neck” throughout the competition.
“They’ve made it tough the entire time. It’s going to be a close call but we feel like we’ve got enough body of work now to make the call,” Whittingham said after last Saturday’s scrimmage. “They’re both really good players. We’ve got a good situation in that regard. We’re picking from two guys that are both very high quality quarterbacks.”
Whittingham made the decision to make Brewer the starter on Monday and word leaked out via various media outlets. But Whittingham wouldn’t confirm those reports, wanting to stick to the plan of releasing the depth chart Thursday.
Meanwhile, Rising was named as a team captain Monday. Brewer was named to the program’s 16-man leadership council.
Last spring, while Rising was recovering from shoulder surgery, Brewer separated himself from the other quarterbacks. At the time, Whittingham outlined Brewer’s strengths.
”He’s been everything we’ve hoped he’d be to this point. He’s a proven vet,” he said. “He’s got a lot of experience under his belt at the Power Five level. He’s thrown for a ton of yards and he’s won a ton of games. That’s what we expected. So far, he’s been exactly what we’ve expected.”
As for the rest of the depth chart, one of the big questions during camp has been about the offensive line. While the Utes have a lot of experience and returning players, Whittingham said the O line has been impacted by unspecified injuries.
“We’ll always be able to put five out there because we have 10 or 11 that we really like,” Whittingham said last Saturday. “But to get the top five out there, we haven’t been able to do that because guys have been missing practice.”
On Monday, Whittingham said the offensive line is not 100% set.
“The reason is because we’re not 100% sure who will be available on Sept. 2,” he said. “We’re still working through and waiting for a couple of guys to get back on the field.”
The depth chart going into Week 1 lists Bamidele Olaseni or Jaren Kump as the starter at left tackle. Braeden Daniels is the starter at left guard and his backup is Keaton Bills. Nick Ford will start at center with Paul Maile serving as the backup; Sataoa Laumea is the starter at right guard, with Johnny Maea as the backup; and Simi Moala will start at right tackle, with Falcon Kaumatule as the backup.
“The O line, we’ve have a lot of guys banged up,” Whittingham said. “That’s probably the most concerning thing right now is the continuity of the O line because it’s been a revolving door with guys getting dinged. That needs to change. We’ve got to get those guys playing together as a unit and we’re running out of time. That’s the most concerning thing for me right now.”
At running back, four players are listed — Micah Bernard, Tavion Thomas, T.J. Pledger and Chris Curry — with none singled out as the starter.
“Four guys will all see action in the game as of now, unless someone separates themselves dramatically (in future practices),” Whittingham said. “They’ve all worked hard and they all deserve reps. That should play itself out like it did last year. … My guess is, I’m fairly certain, that those guys will separate themselves and sort themselves out in the first game or two and we’ll know who’s the primary guy.”
Whittingham said he’s fine with the situation, not having a clear-cut starter at running back.
“Absolutely. As long as we’re getting the production. It doesn’t matter who is giving it to us as long as we have it,” he said. “It’s not like the quarterback position, where you want continuity, which is so important. You want continuity everywhere but it’s not critical like it is at quarterback.”
At wide receiver, Oklahoma transfer Theo Howard is listed as a starter along with Britain Covey and Solomon Enis, with Devaughn Vele, Money Parks and Jaylen Dixon listed as backups.
“We have six or seven (receivers) that we’re really confident in and we’re looking for a guy or two to emerge,” Whittingham said.
On defense, Van Fillinger is listed as the starter at right end, taking the spot vacated by Maxs Tupai, who won’t be playing for the Utes this season.
“We’re expecting him to have a really solid year,” Whittingham said of Fillinger.
The other starters on the D line are Mika Tafua (left end), Viane Moala (left tackle) and Hauati Pututau (right tackle).
The starters at linebacker at veterans Devin Lloyd, Nephi Sewell and Hayden Furey.
What sets Lloyd apart?
“His relentlessness toward the game, his passion for preparation, for perfection. He wants to be the best. He’s as driven as anybody I’ve ever coached in manifesting that,” Whittingham said. “He doesn’t just talk about it, he does it. He’s in the film room constantly. He’s out after practice, the first one to get there, last one to leave. He doesn’t just talk about it. He does it. He’s all about it.”
In the defensive secondary, JaTravis Broughton and Clark Phillips III are locked in as the starters at the cornerback spots with Malone Mataele at nickelback.
The starting safeties are Vonte Davis and Washington transfer Brandon McKinney.
“He’s very athletic. He was a four-star kid out of high school. He’s got a ton of athleticism and he’s very smart,” Whittingham said of McKinney. “He came to us with a great football background and knowledge of defense, as you’d expect playing for Washington, a quality program. This is his last year, he’s a senior and he wants to make the most of it and he has.”
On special teams, Jadon Redding is the starter at placekicker after being named to the Pac-12 all-conference team last season.
“We’ve got an All-Pac-12 kicker returning in Jadon Redding,” Whittingham said. “We’ve got a solid guy there.”
Freshman Cameron Peasley is the starter at punter, though the Australia native had a rough start at the U.
“He started off horribly. He was absolutely brutal when we first got him. He didn’t know much about football,” Whittingham said of Peasley. “Now he’s starting to kick the ball like we knew he was capable of ... His average was well over 45 yards a kick. If he continues to progress, it looks like he’ll be a good one … Our punter has gotten much better. We’ll see how he reacts when the bright lights are on. He’s done a nice job.”
Covey, a Pac-12 all-conference kick returner is listed as the starter at both kickoff return and punt return.
The Utes started preparing for Weber State last week and they’re eager to start the 2021 season.
“We got a lot accomplished (in fall camp). We did the things we said we would and we’re ready going into game one,” Phillips said. “Camp is fun, it’s long, it’s tiring. But you really learn a lot. We’ll be able to prepare for a real game now.”