December 2, 2009

JD's Mailbag

"What do you see the depth chart at running back and corner back next year? Will Beau Burton get any time and will we see more of Shaky? Could we possibly see Princeton Collins or possibly another RB recruit that may commit later? For corner back, do you see Maxwell Lacy coming back to Utah and possibly contributing or even starting? Is there any corner we should look at for that is on the rise?"

- Lisa

Thanks, Lisa.

To start off, I'll focus in more on the running back position.

The running back position for 2010 is still in a state of flux. Eddie Wide comes back after turning in a fantastic season as Utah's feature back. Wide turned in the 11th 1,000 yard rushing season in Utah history and still has the bowl game to add to his numbers. Wide has an outside shot at setting Utah's single-season rushing touchdowns record; he needs three touchdowns in the bowl game to set the mark.

Sausan Shakerin is still learning how to be an effective collegiate runner, and injuries plagued him this season. Shak has a great deal to learn, and being thrust into the backup role in 2009 opened his eyes. He improved a great deal as the season went on and it will be interesting to see how he develops in December and throughout spring ball.

As for Shaky Smithson, I think he will have a role in the running game in 2010, but strictly as the single-wing quarterback (a.k.a. the "Wildcat" or the "Shaky Formation). Smithson will be more valuable in 2010 as a receiver, helping to replace the production of David Reed.

Matt Asiata is a wildcard in all this, as he may or may not be back with the Utes in 2010. If Asiata does come back, no one knows for sure what his role will be or how effective he can be coming off of knee surgery.

My guess is this: Should Asiata decide to not come back next year, Wide will be the feature back with Shak as his top backup. Shaky will get a few carries out of his formation and Beau Burton will be a special teams player who gets a few carries a game. I would expect Wide to get 17-20 carries a game, Shak 8-10, Shaky 5, and Burton whatever is left. Should Asiata come back, I think we would see a distribution more like 2008, with Wide getting 14-16 carries, Asiata 10-12, Shaky with his 4-5, and whatever is left going to Shak.

Burton has received a great deal of praise from the coaching staff with his work on the scout teams and has opened a few eyes. Back in fall camp, head coach Kyle Whittingham said that Burton had "a bright future".

"Beau is doing really well, he's progressing each week," running backs coach Aaron Alford said of Burton. "Personally, not to give people high expectations, but they say he runs a lot like Quinton Ganther; kind of looks like him, kind of built like him. I wasn't here for that, but those that have, he [Ganther] would be the person to compare him to. He's done a better job of getting his pads down, he was running high, and in the college game you have got to be able to run behind your pads. He's done a good job of picking up the speed of the game."

Pad level is something that Utah coaches, and football coaches in general talk a lot about - running behind the pads, getting the pads down, however they want to say it. For those who may not know exactly what that means, what a coach wants to see, Alford explained it. "That is just sinking your hips, getting your pads down, leaning forward a bit, and keeping your eyes up. If you run straight up and down, you are exposing a lot; you are exposing your ribs, your chest, you are exposing all those areas. You don't want anything broken so you better get them down. And then, when you come into contact, you can drive your legs and move your feet to get some extra yards. That's where you see broken tackles, missed tackles, and guys getting another three or four yards, getting yards after contact. You'll make first contact, and you don't want that first man to take you down, but if he does you want to get plus-four."

Utah is bringing in a couple of players at running back in the 2010 class (commitments from Princeton Collins and Matt Anderson), but unless something drastic happens they will most likely redshirt.

Cornerback is a different story, as Utah does have some holes to fill and young players will have a chance to earn playing time. Justin Jones and starter R.J. Stanford graduate, and Utah returns three players who saw playing time in 2009.

Brandon Burton returns as the starting right corner, and he developed nicely as the season went on. Burton has all the physical tools to develop into one of the better defensive players in the conference and had a strong finish to 2009. Lamar Chapman was solid as the nickel back, and could step in to Stanford's role as the starting left corner. Ryan Lacy made a successful transition from receiver to corner and will be in the mix at both left corner and nickel. Conroy Black will also be in the mix. Black redshirted in 2009 and will have two years to play. Black's size and speed are prototypical for the position. Reggie Topps can also play corner, but has moved back-and-forth between corner and safety making his final position unknown. Kamaron Yancy played on special teams this year, but will be hard pressed to break into the lineup as a senior in 2010.

Depth gets a little thin from there, though Utah is getting some young players into the program in the 2010 recruiting class. Currently, Utah has commitments from a pair of high school corners, Damian Payne and Joseph Smith, and could bring in another corner or two. There is always the chance the Utah staff moves other athletes around and to the corner position if needed. There has been speculation about moving some current corners around, but while Utah does move players around a lot, it is rare for someone to move from corner.


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