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The season is for the team, Kyle Whittingham said Monday. The offseason is for the individual.
But that doesn't mean individuals haven't started thinking about what this offseason will bring especially for those who might have a chance to go in the 2017 NFL Draft.
Several of Utah's juniors are getting NFL buzz. Defensive tackle Lowell Lotulelei is among the top 50 prospects by CBS Sports (27) and ESPN (47). Safety Marcus Williams is the No. 2 free safety according to CBS Sports, the No. 39 prospect overall. An NFL.com report last week quoted an executive saying offensive tackle Garett Bolles "is the best in the country."
It seems plain that some of them may be leaving early.
"That typically happens through casual conversation during the season," Whittingham said. "Then we have more in-depth conversations after the season. There are a few guys that need to make a decision and weigh their options."
The Utes work through the NFL advisory committee, which draws from the opinions of both NFL teams and scouting services to create a grade: first-round, second-round, or the suggestion to return to school.
These grades are typically on the mark. Of the early entrant prospects who have received a first- or second-round grade, 85.8 percent of them have gone in those rounds since 2010. Last year, 18 of the 20 who received first- and second-round grades went in those rounds.
Whittingham said that different situations call for different solutions. Even with the grade, some players who have graduated or who are married with children may be more ready to move on than others.
"We do it on a case-by-case basis after the season and make sure we make the decision that's in the best interest of the player," Whittingham said.
Bolles, whose wife is expecting a baby early next year, said he wasn't ready to say what he's going to do. He said he'll make his decision with his wife, his family, Whittingham and offensive line coach Jim Harding. The 6-foot-5 former five-star prospect from Snow said he's not quite ready to look that far ahead.
"If the time comes, the time comes," he said. "I'm not looking much into it. I'm not going to say anything. Coach Whitt is going to get my grade in, and I'm going to make my decision off of that."
Donavan Thompson knew he would be in the game on Saturday just not on Oregon's final drive.
He had prepared for action in the week leading up: "Whether it was a close game or a blowout, I was gonna go in regardless."
Now there's a big chance that Thompson will go in a lot more after the news that sophomore linebacker Cody Barton is out for the rest of the year with a broken collarbone. Utah's second-leading tackler had withstood plenty of criticism for missed tackles in past games, but now the defense will have to see where they stand without him.
That might include Thompson, a 5-foot-10 freshman who has 11 tackles this year. A year ago, he was playing for Miami Central in Florida's high school playoffs.
"My high school prepared me for this right here because our season always ended in December," he said. "I'm kind of used to playing throughout this time. The coaches I had in high school prepared me for stuff like this."
Utah didn't play junior Sunia Tauteoli last game, after a "setback" in pre-game warmups, Whittingham said. Trainers disqualified him minutes before kickoff.
If Tauteoli isn't going this week, the start could fall on Thompson. And he's not shying away from it, nor is he deaf to the criticism the linebacking corps has taken recently.
"It just starts with practice: I believe some guys take practice lightly because they're sore and stuff like that, but that trickles into the game," he said. "We just have to go hard in practice this week."
Lotulelei a finalist for Polynesian award
Lowell Lotulelei is among five finalists for the Polynesian College Football Player of the Year award, including two others from the Pac-12 and another from within the state.
A junior of Tongan ancestry, Lotulelei has 24 tackles and 3 sacks this season for the Utes.
No. 21 Utah at No. 9 Colorado
Saturday, 5:30 p.m.
TV • Ch. 13