Monday morning was the first time the media got a glimpse of some players, and with others returning from injury, it could also be considered the first time the 2014 incarnation of the Utes could be fully seen, albeit without pads.
After getting a first glimpse of Utah football for this fall, some questions have answers, while others are still floating out there waiting for clarity. Here's a brief rundown of some of the major things we know - and a few things we don't - as the Utes begin preparations for their latest campaign.
WHAT WE KNOW
The quarterback battle is really happening. • Sure, Travis Wilson vs. Kendal Thompson has been a talking point for months ever since it became clear that Wilson was coming back and Thompson was coming at all. But until Monday, most Utah media hadn't seen him sling a pass. Now we know it's not just all talk: Thompson wasn't perfect, but he wasn't bad. And although Wilson has a lot of credibility and experience, coaches aren't giving it to him just yet. Kyle Whittingham described it as "the most important" position battle for the team right now. Matt Piper broke down the competition today, and it will be fascinating to watch it develop. Perhaps notably, receiver Kenneth Scott said he had no preference on quarterback: He feels that any of the Utes' options can help them win games.
Eric Rowe is committed to corner, so Tevin Carter needs to step up. • In 20 minutes, there were no reps for Eric Rowe at safety. The senior, entering his fourth year as a starter, is definitely going to start at cornerback, Whittingham said, and he's got all the tools: speed, size, smarts and one-on-one coverage skills that are improving. The only thing that could potentially move him back is if the Utes truly need him at safety, and that's where Tevin Carter comes in. After failing to qualify academically last year, Carter comes in with much to prove. The Utah coaches believe he can be a starter. Kalani Sitake said of Carter, "Well we know what Tevin can do. It's just good to have him out there running around." He'll have to shore up the back end, which will go a long way to helping this secondary survive a conference schedule with a host of dangerous quarterbacks.
The defensive depth is back ... mostly. • Sitake was in a good mood after practice, and with good reason. He's got a fully healthy secondary. He's got a pretty healthy defensive line. He's got one of his penciled-in starting linebackers in action again. The Utes didn't feel like their team was fully assembled in the spring, with lots of defensive players missing time with injury. Now, it's a completely different situation. While Uaea Masina was forced into action at safety in the spring, now the U. has at least three newcomers, including freshmen Andre Godfrey and Marcus Williams, who they think can play. Marcus Sanders-Williams has been a revelation after switching positions to defense, and the line has all kinds of depth with guys such as Jason Fanaika, Stevie Tu'ikolovatu and Filipo Mokofisi trying to fight for rotation reps. What looked diminished months ago now looks a little more beefed up.
WHAT WE DON'T KNOW - YET
What is the right side of the starting offensive line going to be? • If you want some rock-solid bets here, go with the left side of the trenches: tackle C.J. Poutasi, guard Junior Salt and center Siaosi Aiono all got pats on the back from the coaching staff to start camp today. It'll be hard to move any of those guys from the first string. Where it gets interesting is on the other side of the line, where Isaac Asiata, J.J. Dielman, Salesi Uhatafe and Jackson Barton are kind of tangled up. It's a complicated picture, in part because Asiata could play tackle or guard. Whittingham said Monday he was high on Asiata, but might move him inside, which could leave a battle for tackle between Dielman and Barton. Whittingham said Barton, who was a four-star prospect when the U. signed him, is starting to make a case for reps. Dielman has also pushed since spring to be a starter, so the talent vs. experience battle should be a fun one deep into camp.
Will any skill position newcomers be significant contributors? • So there's some clarity that Devontae Booker will be in the mix at running back for sure, but the other offensive skill positions have some intriguing talent that is waiting to be fully realized. You know of Thompson, who has already vaulted to No. 2 on the depth chart and will be battling Wilson at quarterback. But there's also Kaelin Clay, with only one year to play, who is already deemed the fastest player on the team. He's trying to carve out a role as a wideout, and it will be interesting to see if he can get on the field as a returner with Geoffrey Norwood sidelined to start camp. Then there's Wallace Gonzalez, who has the coaching staff's attention at tight end despite just walking on. Can his natural gifts, cultivated in baseball's minor leagues, lead him to a role on this year's team?
Who steps up as a pass rusher? • It's a question that dominates all discussions about the defense. There is no clear successor to Trevor Reilly as far as piling up sacks are concerned. With Reilly off to the NFL, and Jacoby Hale likely out for a while, the U. needs players who can get into the backfield. Senior end Nate Orchard has shown the ability to be that kind of player once in a while, but needs more consistency. Hunter Dimick, Jason Fanaika or Pita Taumoepenu could be candidates to add some fire to the edge rush. There's not a lot of obvious answers to that question, however. It remains to be seen for most of this week, as the Utes warm up to fully padded practices. The first few practices of camp don't usually say much about the state of the trenches.
Stay tuned, everybody.
HIGHLIGHT(S) • There's not much to parse in 20 minutes, but of the media session, one of the most exciting plays was watching Kenneth Scott come down with a long pass by the sideline from Travis Wilson. He managed to beat out Davion Orphey for the throw, a gain of about 35 yards. Also, here's Scott with the honorable mention quote of the day about his health status: "If I can run through rocks and mountains and stuff, I think I can run on a flat plane."
STANDOUT • Freshman alert: Marcus Williams (not to be confused with Marcus Sanders-Williams) was an early bright spot at safety. Sitake liked him in practice today, and maybe we'll see him in the mix on special teams or as a back-up.
KEEP AN EYE ON • Conditioning. Some of the newbies were huffing and puffing after practice today, and the coaches kept freshmen a little longer than the vets. Who gets in shape and how quickly could be an important storyline as rookies compete for roles.
QUOTE OF THE DAY • "I'm all for it. Defensive coordinator is always cheering for the offense ... well, within reason." - Kalani Sitake, discussing the increased speed of the offense under Dave Christensen.
Kyle Goonkgoon@sltrib.comTwitter: @kylegoon