Utes: Ratliff now likely front-runner to start

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The battle is down to two.

Or is it really one?

Quarterback Brian Johnson has agreed to sit out as a redshirt for the Utah Utes this football season to allow his surgically repaired knee more time to heal, not surprisingly leaving rivals Brett Ratliff and Tommy Grady to battle for the starting job that Johnson relinquished last year because of his injury.

Yet while the coaches said after a scrimmage Thursday that they have not determined which of the two has the edge for the job, it seems highly unlikely they would choose Grady over Ratliff - considering Ratliff saved the season

with two virtuoso performances last year while Grady has not played a game in some 19 months.

"We have the best quarterback situation in the country, as far as depth," coach Kyle Whittingham said. "This gives us, essentially, quarterbacks for the next three years, and I said way back in spring that if Brian Johnson's knee is not 100 percent without question, we're going to redshirt him. We're not going to take any risks with his future."

With Ratliff entering his final season of eligibility, Johnson could wind up the starter for the next two seasons, provided he beats out Grady - a fellow junior who already has used a redshirt season - for the job next year.

In the meantime, Johnson will continue to rehabilitate a knee that was strong enough to allow him to look sharp during training camp, but not quite completely healed.

"It could have been well enough to play," Johnson said. "But you have three great quarterbacks. Why risk it? I have a long future ahead of me playing football, I think, so I want to come here and be 100 percent healthy, and if I'm not able to do that, then it's no use to go out there."

Certainly, all three quarterbacks have looked good enough that the Utes probably are just as strong with any of them running the offense, making the decision simple considering the circumstances.

Nine months after his surgery, Johnson still suffers some occasional soreness and swelling in the knee, leaving the Utes uncertain how he would tolerate the increased workload that would come with remaining in a race to be the starter. He did not play during the scrimmage at Rice-Eccles Stadium, while Ratliff and Grady again looked solid after learning Johnson was out of the picture.

Each threw for three touchdowns - receivers Derrek Richards and Freddie Brown each caught two of them - and they combined to complete 18-of-32 passes for 328 yards passing. Only Grady threw an interception, which cornerback Brice McCain returned 28 yards.

"I was really excited just to go out and have it down to two," Ratliff said. "You get more reps, and to just be able to battle against one guy instead of two is exciting."

Offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig said it's important for the Utes to decide quickly who will start in the season opener at UCLA on Sept. 2. The decision could come over the weekend, though the team might wait until after its final preseason scrimmage next week.

"Not only for the quarterback, but for the entire offense, you don't want to leave that thing hanging," Ludwig said. "The guys want to know who's taking us to battle. So in the next couple of days, that should declare itself."

Meanwhile, Johnson already is looking toward his future.

"There's no doubt in my mind," he said, that when he returns "I'll be the best quarterback in the conference, if not the country."


BYU must replace all of last year's starters on the defensive line. D9

l USU Notes, D7

l Weber State Notes, D9

QB Miami Dolphins Tore ACL, PCL, MCL

Making rapid recovery, slated to be Dolphins' starter

Deuce McAllister RB New Orleans Saints Tore ACL

Missed first preseason game, but should be ready for regular season

Carson Palmer QB Cincinnati Bengals Tore ACL, MCL

Hasn't played in preseason. No hard date set on his return

Javon Walker WR Denver Broncos Tore ACL first game

Knee has been sore during camp, but should see time in preseason

Johnson game by game in 2005

opp. result cmp att int yds tds

Arizona W 19 30 0 220 1

USU W 18 21 0 268 2

TCU L 15 30 1 208 0

Air Force W 21 29 1 305 2

North Carolina L 22 34 1 211 1

Colorado State L 15 27 2 255 1

SDSU L 31 47 1 417 0

UNLV W 20 29 0 264 3

Wyoming W 32 45 0 384 4

New Mexico L 17 38 1 360 4

Totals 210 330 7 2892 18