November 3, 2009
JD talks about 2010 football
I think everyone wants to know which young players are standing out in practices, since we haven't seen them since summer. Specifically, which linebackers do you see stepping up next year when we lose three seniors? What about Safeties? Who is looking to take over for RJ? What about WRs? Which of the incoming freshman are making the biggest impact in practice?
Thanks for the question! I'll start off with a quote.
"I think we have a good system put in place here by coach Whit and you saw guys like David Kruger and how it paid off for him last year redshirting and we've got a lot of good guys that are redshirting this year that we look forward to doing some things for us next year. I can't tell who's going to play next year, but I know they are all working hard and giving us some good looks." - defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake
On the offensive side of the ball, Beau Burton continues his strong play on the scout team and looks to have a bright future at running back. From what I have seen of Burton, I would he runs like a mix of Eddie Wide and Quinton Ganther in that he hits the hole quick, hard, with the speed and quickness to make the first man miss and the low, "bowling ball" style that allows him to bounce off tackles or run over defensive backs.
Another young standout has been Jeremiah Tofaeono at guard. Tofaeono came in as a defensive tackle and made the move to the offensive line late in fall camp and has done nothing but draw rave reviews since. Tofaeono has literally been throwing defenders around in practices and several players have told me that once he gets the footwork and technique down he will be "a monster". Comparisons have already been made to former Utah All-American Chris Kemoeatu. Elsewhere on the line, Kapua Sai has moved to center and is adjusting to the position. Vyncent Jonees has been solid at guard while Percy Taumoealau is doing a nice job at tackle. Utah appears to have a solid line in the making, with promising freshmen in the program at every position and one, Sam Brenner, earning playing time as a true in 2009.
Jamal Smith is the only scholarship freshman at receiver and has had his ups and downs on the field. Smith struggled early in fall camp, looking slow and robotic early on while trying to adjust to everything that was being thrown at him. As camp drew to a close, Smith finally started to look like a football player and has continued to get better on the scout team. Smith has shown an ability to separate on deep routes and adjust to the ball in the air, but is still largely an unknown at this point, especially when it comes to blocking. Luke Matthews and DeVonte Christopher have played well this season and will only see their roles on offense expand from here on out. At tight end, Kendrick Moeai has come on strong the last few weeks and should become more involved in the passing game. Moeai has seen some playing time flexed out in the slot due to his speed. Another young tight end, Colby Goodwin, has left the program.
Defensively, I'll start with the linebackers. Utah does lose all three starting linebackers when Stevenson Sylvester, Mike Wright, and Kepa Gaison all graduate. Fortunately for the Utes, they have some experienced backup to turn to. Chad Manis appears to be next-in-line to start at Gaison's strongside linebacker spot. The former quarterback has come on strong since fall camp and has had some good moments on the field in 2009. J.J. Williams can play any of the three spots and seems to be a natural replacement for Sylvester; Williams started over Sylvester when both players were freshmen in 2005. Chaz Walker has also played well and could start, moving Williams to the middle.Matt Martinez had done a nice job filling in for Wright and will get the first crack at starting in the middle. Five other linebackers could compete for playing time. L.T. Filiaga and Thor Salanoa look capable of playing on the strongside. Mo Neal and Jamel King can play either of the inside linebacker positions and Boo Andersen, while not locked into a position, looks more natural in the middle.
At safety, Victor Spikes would appear to have the leg up on the competition to fill in for Robert Johnson, as Spikes is playing as a true freshman while Jarrad Stewart and Chris Washington are redshirting. Stewart has done a nice job in practices while Washington is recovering from shoulder surgery. Stewart and Washington appear to be more natural free safeties while Spikes could easily turn into a fantastic strong safety and all three will be in a fight for starting jobs and playing time in 2010. "Washington's hurt so we haven't seen him much but I know what he can do," Sitake told me. "We already know what J-Stew can do and what Victor can do. Victor's playing. We look forward to those guys playing. I think the future is bright at that position and I know Morgan Scalley will get them ready."
There are not many young players at corner, and the Utes only lose two players, starter R.J. Stanford and backup Justin Jones. Brandon Burton has played fantastic in really his first year playing on defense and Lamar Chapman has been a solid nickel corner. Ryan Lacy has been good enough to earn playing time after moving from receiver in the summer and Conroy Black has been impressive in his redshirt season. "We're looking for big things from him (Conroy Black)," Sitake said. "We're putting him on the same plan that we did with Chapman last year and look at Chapman this year, the things that he has done, and we plan on using Conroy in the same fashion. We think that it is a good opportunity for him to get better during his redshirt and sharpen his skill up so we can use him for the full two years."
Utah does not lose much in the way of numbers on the defensive line, with Koa Misi and Kenape Eliapo as the lone seniors. There is one player the staff and Sitake in particular is really high on, freshman end Eric Dago. "He is going to be a good one. He needs to gain some weight and he has done that. He is a really active guy and is just all over the field. He has an active motor and we really look forward to him and Trevor Reilly stepping up at the d-end position in the future."
Got a question you want answered in the Mailbag? Send an e-mail to JD at email@example.com.
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