Utah wide receiver Devaughn Vele was frustrated. And motivated.
Entering last Saturday’s scrimmage at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Vele and the wideouts wanted to make a statement.
And they did.
Coach Kyle Whittingham certainly noticed.
“We do have some really good wide receivers. They just need to step up and make plays, which they did on Saturday,” he said. “That was maybe the highlight of the entire scrimmage, in my estimation, the way the receivers made plays. That needed to happen and it was good to see it happen.”
Vele had a point to make in that scrimmage.
“I was definitely fueled. I’m not going to sugarcoat it. We’ve heard a lot of rumors talking about how we’re the weak link in the offense and that we’re the soft group. That we were getting our wins despite our receivers. Hearing that from a lot of people, it fuels you in a different way,” he said. “I’ve got to show everybody that they’re wrong. That was the first time that I came to practice and I was like, ‘I’m here, nobody can guard me. I’m going to make my statement here.’
“I don’t want people thinking that this offense is all about the tight ends and the running backs and our amazing quarterback,” he continued. “Those guys are all great, but we’re here, too. We’re on scholarship for the same reason and we’re just as good as those guys. We wanted to prove that. It’s proving the doubters wrong. We’re going to keep doing our jobs. We know how hard we’re working and we’re going to make sure we show that on the field.”
Wide receivers coach Chad Bumphis liked what he saw on Saturday, but he’s looking for consistency.
“Some guys stepped up and made some plays. Early on, they were inconsistent. You have to do it throughout the week,” he said. “If you don’t do it in practice, I’ll never know in a game because you’ll never get the opportunity. It’s got to be a consistent deal. We have to feel comfortable that you can go out and execute every play. They did it on Saturday.”
Solomon Enis also felt a need to prove something in the scrimmage.
“We were put on the spot. We didn’t have a good week of practice. The coaches asked who was going to show up and we took it personal,” he said. “We did show up. Now, we’ve got to be consistent with it. We have to be that group that shows up day-in and day-out. Hopefully we can build off that Saturday performance.”
With the departure of Britain Covey, Vele and Enis are battling this spring for the top wide receiver spot.
Last season, Vele caught 23 passes for 389 yards (16.9 yards per catch) and one touchdown, while Enis hauled in 22 receptions for 248 yards and a TD.
“It’s an open competition,” Bumphis said. “The more they compete, the better we’ll be as a group.”
“We’re just in a healthy competition. We both want to see each other succeed. But we do have to push each other. This is a business. It’s nothing spiteful or personal,” Enis said. “We both want to see each other achieve our goals and do what we need to do not only for the team but our own personal success. I love Vele. He’s a great guy and he definitely deserves everything that’s coming his way. He’s going to have a great year this year.”
“Those two have to continue to come along,” Whittingham said.
What’s the next step for this wide receivers group in terms of progression?
“It all goes back to consistency. There was a stretch during the season when I thought Vele was one of the best receivers in the Pac-12. Then he gets an injury here and an injury there and then things slow down,” Bumphis said. “But if we’re the same group every single day, we’ve got everything we need in that room.
“There are some playmakers in there and it showed on Saturday but it has to show on Tuesday and Thursday as well, not only when the lights are as bright as they’re going to be, every day we need them to be at their best.”
Bumphis added that the wide receivers at Utah should have a chip on their shoulders.
“As a wide receiver, this is the perfect offense. You know what you’re going to get. You’re going to get man-to-man, in-your-face every rep. To me as a wide receiver, that’s the most disrespectful thing you can do to me,” he said. “Don’t press me and play me man-to-man with no help over the top. We’ve got to have that mentality — that is disrespectful.
“Once we get that and we absolutely hate to lose, we’ll be the group we can be, because talent-wise we’ve got some stuff. It’s a mentality that, ‘Don’t disrespect me.’”
Last Saturday, Vele and the rest of the wideouts earned some respect in a scrimmage. The goal is for that kind of performance to happen in games.