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Utah Football: QB battle will go to the tape after spring wraps up

Published April 19, 2014 12:41 pm

College football • It's not as simple as 1. Wilson, 2. Manning, 3. Schulz, 4. Cox.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

There's some news at quarterback that Ute fans aren't going to like.

Have a seat.

Take a deep breath.

It's this: Most of you have no idea what you're talking about.

Neither do the media, for that matter. The people who are qualified to judge the spring practice quarterback battle say the results are still inconclusive, and the investigation is ongoing.

The depth chart says junior Travis Wilson is No. 1, followed by redshirt freshman Conner Manning, junior Adam Schulz and redshirt freshman Brandon Cox. But the depth chart is fickle, says offensive coordinator Dave Christensen. It may change after Saturday's spring game. It will change in fall.

What's safe to say is that the No. 1 quarterback on campus is Wilson.

He's the most athletic quarterback, and his experience in 21 games counts for a lot, says QB coach Aaron Roderick. Early on, he was learning the nuances of Christensen's offensive approach with the rest of the group, but, "As camp goes along and the guys start learning the offense better, you see Travis sort of separating himself a little bit."

Naturally, fans and media and that trouble-making depth chart pegged Manning as the backup after he went 18 for 28 for 182 yards and three touchdowns in two spring scrimmages, compared to 7 for 20 for 44 yards for Schulz. A lack of spring reps suggests that Cox is a somewhat distant fourth.

None of that is necessarily true, though. It's not just about throwing the ball in the spread offense, Roderick said, and much of what will ultimately separate the quarterbacks will be analyzed on tape in weeks to come.

"In the spread offense, your quarterback's making a decision on every single play," Roderick said. "There's not very many plays where our quarterback just hands it to somebody and the play's over."

The spread running game depends on the quarterback's reads more than some casual observers may realize. Sometimes they read whether to hand off or keep it and run. Sometimes they decide not only whether to hand it off, but if they keep it, whether to run or pass.

"It's a misnomer sometimes to think that spread QBs are just athletes," Roderick said. "You've got to have smart players that make decisions on every single play. It takes time to master it."

Manning is a less conventional spread quarterback in that he's not much of a rushing threat, but Roderick said his pocket presence and ability to get rid of the ball quickly and to a variety of receivers make him difficult to sack.

Schulz brings game experience — the former walk-on was thrown to the wolves last year with Wilson's injury and responded by passing for 1,008 yards, six touchdowns and five interceptions — as well as a strong arm and decent speed.

Cox has dedicated himself in the weight room and added both zip on his passes and agility that he thinks is better than it was when he was rated one of the nation's best dual-threat prep passers, before a debilitating foot injury. Asked if Cox is the best No. 4 quarterback Utah has had, Roderick said, "I don't even like calling him a No. 4 quarterback because he's a good player and I wouldn't be afraid at all to put him in the game."

This fall, Oklahoma transfer Kendal Thompson and freshman Donovan Isom will join the competition. It stands to reason that some guys may transfer, that some guys may switch positions.

That's a discussion for next week. In the meantime, Roderick and Christensen will be scouring the tape.

"It's not a perfect science," Roderick said. "It's not exact. You do your best and you make the call." —

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Utah quarterbacks

Travis Wilson • Junior has passed for 23 TDs, 22 interceptions in two seasons, with his 2014 campaign cut short after a thought-to-be pre-existing intracranial artery condition was discovered by doctors treating concussion symptoms.

Conner Manning • Just 6-foot-1 and not particularly fleet afoot, he nonetheless broke Matt Barkley's single-season Orange County passing record as a prep junior and passed for 9,449 yards as a prep.

Adam Schulz • A former walk-on, Schulz earned a scholarship working with the scout team and then last season saw time as a sophomore, with gritty-if-unspectacular performances against Arizona, Washington State and Colorado.

Brandon Cox • Originally committed to Arizona, Cox switched to Utah after missing most of his senior season with a foot injury. He's praised by coach Aaron Roderick for his intelligence and was Pasadena High vice president.