SALT LAKE CITY — Perhaps it’s a sign of the times. For the first time since tight end Dennis Smith in 1989, the guy who caught the most passes for the Utah Utes last season wasn’t a wide receiver. That honor went to tight end Brant Kuithe, who led the team with 34 receptions.

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham isn’t concerned about it. He was quick to point out that tight ends Travis Kelce and George Kittle were the top receivers for the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers, respectively.

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“Both of them were in the Super Bowl, so I think that’s not a bad thing,” Whittingham said. “You’ve got your weapons as an offensive coordinator. Here’s your weapons ... maximize them.”

Utah’s receivers did make major contributions, however. They played a big role in quarterback Tyler Huntley’s high completion percentage (.731). Senior Demari Simpkins wound up with 32 receptions to represent the position group in the top three. Running back Zack Moss was third with 28.

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After that, the lone Ute with 20 or more catches in 2019 was sophomore Jaylen Dixon (24). Four of the other five receivers reaching double-figures are also returning this year. The group includes Samson Nacua (18), Bryan Thompson (18), Solomon Enis (14) and Britain Covey (10). Senior Derrick Vickers (19) completed his eligibility.

Whittingham is optimistic about the returnees. He noted that Nacua and Tyrone Young-Smith provide senior leadership. The Utes are hopeful that the injury-plagued Young-Smith will be granted a sixth year of eligibility. 

Covey, who redshirted after four games in 2019, is also healthy again. He’s part of a class that includes Dixon, Enis and Thompson.

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“That’s a tremendous group of juniors,” Whittingham said.

Utah also has some young receivers eager to make an impact as the team transitions to a new quarterback with Huntley’s graduation. South Carolina transfer Jake Bentley and Texas transfer Cameron Rising are the leading candidates. Hopes are high on freshman receiver Devaughn Vele. He played in four games last season to preserve his redshirt.

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Whittingham said the 6-foot-4 walk-on was a pleasant surprise.  

“You talk about a guy that just dropped in your lap and has really come on,” he explained.  

The Utes also picked up a pair of high school standouts during the early signing period. They added Money Parks (Aledo HS, Texas) and Connor O’Toole (La Cueva HS, New Mexico). Whittinghaam said both receivers have a lot of upside, though the 6-foot-4, 207-pound O’Toole may eventually outgrow the position.