As spring ball at Utah kicks off, coaches staging a quarterback competition to find a starter, develop depth
Senior Charlie Brewer and freshman Peter Costelli top the pre-spring depth chart at QB
Monday morning, prior to Utah’s first spring practice of the season, coach Kyle Whittingham discussed with reporters what he wants to get accomplished during the next month.
Naturally, quarterbacks was a major topic.
The Utes are staging what could be a compelling QB competition between Baylor senior grad transfer Charlie Brewer, who is listed at the top of the depth chart; and several freshmen — highly touted recruit Peter Costelli; Texas transfer Ja’Quinden Jackson; Cooper Justice; and Bryson Barnes. Costelli is listed No. 2 behind Brewer on the current depth chart.
Sophomore Cam Rising, who earned the starting job last year before suffering a season-ending injury in the second quarter of the season-opener, will not participate in spring ball because he’s still recovering from shoulder surgery.
“Right at the top of that list would be starting to get the quarterback situation sorted out. The final sorting out at that position will be done in fall camp. We’ll get a good start on that and see where we are.” — Kyle Whittingham
Monday marks the first time the new quarterbacks that are participating in spring will be able to put on helmets and take reps under the tutelage of the coaching staff.
“It’s going to be good to get back on the field. It’s been about three months since we were last together on the field. We have a lot to accomplish this spring,” Whittingham said. “Right at the top of that list would be starting to get the quarterback situation sorted out. The final sorting out at that position will be done in fall camp. We’ll get a good start on that and see where we are.”
A year ago, Utah’s quarterback battle during the spring featured Rising, South Carolina grad transfer Jake Bentley and senior Drew Lisk. Rising ultimately won the job in the fall but was replaced by Bentley after the injury. In the season finale against Washington State, Lisk replaced an ineffective Bentley and led the Utes to a dramatic second-half comeback. Utah trailed the Cougars 28-7 at halftime and it scored 38 unanswered points over the final 30 minutes in a 45-28 victory.
The way the pandemic-affected season played out reaffirmed the importance of quarterback depth.
Whittingham said the pre-spring depth chart is “a very raw, early speculation on what we feel the pecking order is right now. That could change dramatically as guys start to take reps. Nothing to read into that other than we don’t have any guys coming back other than Cam.
“We don’t list any guys on the two-deep that aren’t participating in spring ball. It’s a best-guess scenario and let it sort itself out. Charlie is the upperclassman, the senior. All the other ones are freshmen. Naturally, Charlie is the leader of that group, at least at the onset. We’ll see that happens from here.”
Choosing the right starting quarterback is crucial for Utah, of course. A balance must be struck between finding a QB that will help the program win now while also laying a foundation for the future.
“It’s all part of the equation. We’re looking at not only the immediate season but down the road,” Whittingham said. “You’ve got to do the best job you can as far as balancing that and making the right decision. Typically, all things being equal, winning now is the most important thing. That’s the top priority.
“Obviously, it’s going to be a very important decision. That’s the most important position on the field. I don’t think there’s any doubt about that,” Whittingham continued. “We feel like the room’s got a lot of good players in it. The personalities seem to fit. They’re getting along exceptionally well. When we add Cam to the equation in the summer, that gives us one more guy that will be right in the hunt.”
Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Andy Ludwig is excited about the new QBs he has to work with this spring.
“Some new faces but a really high bar in terms of talent level in the quarterback room. It’s going to be a very competitive situation,” he said. “Cam will not go through spring practices but he’ll be around everything we’re doing. He’ll provide leadership and insight to the position that will be a great asset to the new quarterbacks in the room. Bryson Barnes and Cooper Justice are two players that have been in the program for one year. Those players can’t be discounted.”
Rising expects to be healthy by this summer. He said the quarterbacks room has a positive vibe.
“We’re meshing together pretty well. Everyone has respect for each other. No rivalries are being developed,” he said. “We understand that we have a common goal here, just to get better as a team and keep competing every day.”
Costelli gave up his senior year of high school football at Mission Viejo High in California in order to enroll at Utah in January. He said that choice was hard but that it’s paid off so far.
“The quarterback room is really good. We have a lot of good quarterbacks. It’s great also to learn from the older guys too, with their experience. They can teach me a lot of things.” — Peter Costelli
“It was definitely a tough decision for me, especially because I built such a connection with my high school team. But looking at the situation, you have to make a tough decision,” he said. “I decided to come up here to get myself involved with the offense as quickly as possible. The quarterback room is really good. We have a lot of good quarterbacks. It’s great also to learn from the older guys too, with their experience. They can teach me a lot of things. Coach Ludwig is teaching me great things. It’s a really good opportunity being up here.”
Brewer, who threw for more than 9,000 yards during his career at Baylor, welcomes the competition for the starting QB job.
“I’ve been through many competitions before,” he said. “It’s not just good for me but it’s good for the team.”
Whittingham likes what Brewer adds to his program in terms of leadership, experience and approach.
“The fierce competitive nature that kid’s got … He’s a guy everybody rallies around,” he said. “That, combined with some really good statistics. He’s the second-leading passer in Baylor football history. He led them to a bunch of wins. Last year wasn’t what he was hoping for but he had a good body of work at Baylor. More than anything, his leadership and his ability to make those around him better.”
Let the competition begin.