This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
There's little talk this August about what MUST happen as Utah opens preseason camp.
Winning is paramount, but winning is not for the near-future employment of Kyle Whittingham and his staff necessarily imperative.
That's because Utah beat USC, UCLA and Stanford in 2014, and if not for calamitous drops against Washington State, a rare missed field goal against Arizona State and an infamous blunder against Oregon, a nine-win season might've been an 11-, 12- or 13-win season.
(Probably not, but who knows?)
In that regard, there's a little less steam in the pressure cooker. Utah's formula is proven.
But then, those nine wins included five by a touchdown or less, and two in double overtime. The margin between first and last in the Pac-12 South seems as razor-thin as ever, and the burning questions this August very closely resemble the burning questions this spring, last August, and so on dating back to Utah's entry to the Pac-12.
With that said, here's what we'll be watching for Thursday, as the Utes begin to prepare for Jim Harbaugh's Michigan Wolverines on Sept. 3 wanting wins, whether or not they desperately need them, as much as ever.
Even if Whittingham said at Pac-12 Media Days in Burbank, Calif., last week that the door is not fully closed on Hatfield, Utah has begun the process of evaluating its other options.
As only Utah can.
That's because after junior nickel Justin Thomas, the rest of Utah's corners have combined for seven tackles and one pass breakup.
But until Sept. 3, the only people who can reasonably feel good or bad about Utah's starting corners are Utah's coaches.
2. Besides senior Kenneth Scott, where are the playmakers at receiver? • It says a lot about the need for offensive firepower that even with Hatfield's dismissal, offensive coaches won the tug-of-war over dual-threat L.A. Harbor transfer Cory Butler.
Butler will start camp at receiver, as will converted senior running back Bubba Poole.
There are no shortage of options to replace and Utah hopes, exceed the production of San Francisco 49ers wideout Dres Anderson and Tampa Bay Buccaneers wideout Kaelin Clay.
Senior Tim Patrick is fully healthy after sustaining a gruesome leg injury against Oregon. Redshirt freshman Raelon Singleton and freshman Tyrone Smith were lauded as regular standouts this spring. Junior Delshawn McClellon, sophomore Kenric Young and sophomore Jameson Field all have experience in Utah's offense.
Still, Utah wants somebody to be "explosive," not merely "competent." Besides Scott, its best bet might be Butler or incoming Blinn College speedster Kyle Fulks.
3. Who is this year's Kaelin Clay? • That's probably asking too much, but with Shaky Smithson, Reggie Dunn and Clay, Utah's returns have been a team strength for years. It would be strange if opponents didn't get an uneasy feeling before kicking to Utah.
The latest depth chart lists sophomore corner Boobie Hobbs as the No. 1 option for returning punts, which he did once last season, for six yards.
By comparison, Poole is an old hand at kickoffs, with two for 38 yards in 2013. Fellow top option Monte Seabrook hasn't returned a kick since high school.
No knock on those three, but expect to see some new faces enter the fray: Butler may try his hand at both punt and kickoff returns, Fulks has Dunn-like sprint speed and we'll see if Timpview phenom Britain Covey's superhuman agility translates to Power 5 punt returning.
4. Who is Utah's starting quarterback? • Whittingham reiterated at media day that he doesn't believe there are merits to a two-quarterback system.
He wants it to be one guy.
That guy will be either Travis Wilson or Kendal Thompson.
They'll split the reps like they did last year, with Thompson fully mended from an ACL tear against Oregon having the added benefit of being known to his teammates and coaches.
Whittingham delivered a mixed message in Burbank: "May the best man win. Travis is the guy and it's his job to lose, but Kendal is the guy that's going to give him the competition."
If it's "may the best man win," then is it really one guy's "to lose?" Does Wilson have to do something bad, even if Thompson is doing more good?
And are we reading WAY too much into some throwaway podium quote?
That last one, we can answer: For sure. And get used to it, because this stands to be the most buzzed-about story again this August.
5. Where will injury strike? • If it's at defensive line or linebacker, Utah fans may hardly notice.
Utah could trot out all "backups" at either position and be a match for most teams.
At offensive line, versatile players like senior Siaosi Aiono and junior Isaac Asiata give Utah some backup plans.
And the beauty of having two quarterbacks who are hard to separate is that if one goes down, there isn't likely to be a noticeable drop-off.
Wherever injury strikes, it's a sad deal. But it's not necessarily a deal-breaker, unless it's to players like Devontae Booker, Scott or Porter, where the dropoff may be considerable.
Expect Utah to use caution this fall camp, accordingly.
Utah fall camp
Last year • 9-4, Las Vegas Bowl champions
Coaching changes • John Pease as defensive coordinator, Aaron Roderick and Jim Harding as co-offensive coordinators, Morgan Scalley as special teams coordinator, Justin Ena as linebackers coach, Lewis Powell as tight ends coach
Drafted • Eric Rowe, Philadelphia; Nate Orchard, Cleveland; Jeremiah Poutasi, Tennessee; Kaelin Clay, Tampa Bay
New faces • S Philip Afia, RB Marcel Brooks-Brown, WR/CB Cory Butler, OL Johnny Capra, OL Nick Carman, S Tyson Cisrow, OL Keven Dixon, S Jordan Fogal, WR Kyle Fulks, LB Chris Hart, RB Marcus Horne, DE Kendall Huey, OL Darrin Paulo, TE/DE Caleb Repp, DE Sione Sina, DT Pasoni Tasini, RB Joe Williams, WR George Williams