Fall Camp Recap

A complete recap of all the happenings, position battles, injuries, and everything that happened throughout fall camp...

Defense:

Going into fall camp the biggest question mark came in the secondary as everyone wondered who was going to replace RJ Stanford, Robert Johnson, and Joe Dale. Coming out of camp the biggest question is can the rest of the defense make up for the linebacking inefficiencies?

While Chad Manis, J.J. Williams, and Matt Martinez, along with Chaz Walker, are all solid football players, the talent level and playmaking abilities just aren't there for those outside of Williams. Missed tackles, missed assignments, and being overpowered were just a few of the problems they had throughout camp. A younger player, possibly a VJ Fehoko, Dave Fagergren or Jamel King, needs to step up in a big way and make a splash.

Replacing three players in the secondary turned out easier than anticipated. Justin Taplin-Ross immediately showed that he would be a starter at one of the safety positions. The battle for the other spot looked like it would come down to Chris Washington, Damian Payne, Greg Bird, and Victor Spikes, at least until true freshman Brian Blechen took the field. Blechen was a force from day one, showing great understanding for the position out of a freshman and crushing guys every chance he got. The second cornerback spot opposite Brandon Burton was open as well coming into camp and Conroy Black and Lamar Chapman continue to fight it out. This battle isn't over, but Chapman seems to have the edge for now in my mind.

Defensive end Derrick Shelby enjoyed a good year in 2009 before a knee injury caused him to miss the end of the season. He participated in drills the first day of camp for a few minutes before taking most of practice off to rest his knee. Recovery has been a slow process throughout camp, but he finally looks to be almost back to full strength. Battling Shelby throughout camp has been Christian Cox who has been better than some anticipated. Junior Tui'one seems to have safely wrapped up a starting spot at the other defensive end. Trevor Reilly showed that he could be a pass rushing force and true freshman Joe Kruger continued the tradition of Krugers making an instant impact. James Aiono, Latu Heimuli and Neli A'asa all looked good and should receive playing time this year at defensive tackle.

Offense:

Offensively the Utes look to be in great shape. Terrance Cain definitely outplayed Jordan Wynn throughout camp, but that may have been a result of Wynn going against the first team defense and Cain going against the second string. The Utes are still in great shape if Wynn goes down with an injury at some point.

Matt Asiata looked out of shape, hobbled and sluggish at the start of camp, coming off of his knee injury from 2009. By the end of camp he looked like the Matt Asiata of old, making great cuts, hitting the hole hard, and running with power. Combine him with Eddie Wide, who looks even better this year coming off of a 1,000+ yard season and the running game should be the best in the conference. Walk-on transfer Tauni Vakapuna also made a great impression in camp consistently running hard and breaking off big runs.

One of the biggest questions on offense coming into camp was who would replace all American Zane Beadles at left tackle. JC transfer John Cullen was anointed the starter by coaches before practice even began and ran with it. Despite missing some time with injuries, Cullen was the most impressive at the left tackle spot and should have a solid year.

The Utes showed that they have a lot of depth at receiver, but not a lot of experience yet. The starting three of Jereme Brooks, Shaky Smithson, and Luke Matthews was pretty set coming into camp, but a surprising DeVonte Christopher did his best to make it a four man race. Griffin McNabb proved that he could be a reliable slot receiver and young guys Fatu Moala, Sean Fitzgerald, and Reggie Dunn could all receive playing time this year. Martavious Lee got into camp a few days late and then went down with an injury. When healthy, he looks like he could make an impact. Newcomer Dexter Ransom adds some depth as well.

Special Teams:

Shaky Smithson is going to be the man returning punts and kickoffs. If he doesn't break one for a touchdown this year, I'll eat my own foot. Sean Sellwood is a solid punter and Joe Phillips was very consistent on kicks inside 40 yards throughout camp.

MVPs at each level

Quarterback - Terrance Cain
Both the starter Wynn and the third stringer Robles looked good, but Cain was great. His arm strength is increased and his accuracy was improved. I wish there would have been an open QB competition going into camp so we could have seen Cain going against the number 1 defense more often.

Running Back - Tauni Vakapuna
The surprise of the camp was walk on Vakapuna who runs hard and with better speed that his body might indicate. He's a real bowling ball out there running over, around, and away from defenders. He showed the ability to run inside as well as break a long one as he had a few 40+ yarders in camp.

Wide Receiver- DeVonte Christopher
For the second straight fall camp, DeVonte Christopher was impressive, working his way back into the rotation.

Offensive Line - Zane Taylor
The anchor of the line at center didn't participate a ton to get younger guys reps, but was consistently dominant when he did.

Defensive Line - Sealver Siliga and Dave Kruger
The two defensive tackles are primed for all conference years and made life tough on the interior lineman.

Linebacker - Matt Martinez
This comes by default as none of the linebackers were very impressive. J.J. Williams was the best linebacker when healthy, but Martinez was the best of all the healthy linebackers.

Secondary - Brandon Burton
The defensive surprise of camp was the emergence of true freshman Brian Blechen at the strong safety spot, but Burton was a monster all camp, constantly shutting down his side of the field. He didn't have a ton of interceptions, but he was rarely thrown at.

Biggest Surprises:
Offense- Tauni Vakapuna
He made a great run at Sausan Shakerin and the number 3 running back spot. A hard worker who refuses to go down.

Defense - Brian Blechen
The true freshman was impressive from day 1 and worked his way to the number 1 spot at strong safety. He has a nose for the ball and really likes to hit. He might be the hardest hitter on the team and players were noticeably shying away from contact with him.

Disappointments -
Offense - Martavious Lee
There isn't a ton to worry about on the offensive side of the ball, but Martavious Lee and his inability to stay healthy had him miss most of camp. He was expected to make a strong push for a starting spot, but instead is battling for a spot in the two deep.

Defense - Linebackers and Chris Washington
The depth and talent at linebacker is not where it needs to be. J.J. Williams is the best linebacker on the team, but has been injured for much of camp. I figured the secondary would be the biggest problem spot on the team, but linebacker appears to be the weak link coming out of camp.

Washington is quite the physical specimen, but isn't putting it all together on the field. Based on measurables alone, he should be the starting strong safety. Instead he's fighting for a spot in the two deep.

Positions Battles-

Left Tackle
- It was over before it began as John Cullen was anointed the starter over Percy Taumoelau and Sam Brenner before fall camp ever started. Cullen backed it up as he was easily the premier player in camp.

Right Guard- Similar to the left tackle situation, Tevita Stevens wrapped up this battle quickly over Sam Brenner and Walter Watts.

Wide Receiver- The starters were fairly set with Jereme Brooks, Shaky Smithson, and Luke Matthews, but DeVonte Christopher made a big impression and will get a lot of reps. Walk-on Griffin McNabb solidified his spot with Fatu Moala the sixth receiver right now. JC transfers Mo Lee, Dexter Ransom, and Reggie Dunn are still going to be in the mix as will Kenneth Scott.

Tight End- Brad Clifford and Kendrick Moeia established themselves as the two premier tight ends and the battle will continue up to the start of the season as a starter is yet to be named. The Utes can't go wrong either way.

Cornerback- The spot opposite Brandon Burton is still yet to be determined between Conroy Black and Lamar Chapman. Chapman had the better camp in my eyes, but the difference was minimal. This battle could last all season.

Free Safety- With the revolving door at both safety, there was one constant in Justin Taplin-Ross. JTR started out at the strong safety and moved over to the free safety spot a few days in camp as his spot was never challenged.

Strong Safety- Damian Payne, Chris Washington, Bryce Bennion, Victor Spikes, and Greg Bird all had their shot, but true freshman Brian Blechen took the strong safety spot a few days into camp and never gave it back. Blechen should hold down his spot for the next four years.

Defensive End- Junior Tui'one held his defensive end spot throughout camp while Derrick Shelby, Christian Cox and James Aiono battled for the other spot. Cox emerged from camp as the leader, but if healthy, Shelby should win that spot back at some point.

Left Tackle
75 John Cullen (6-5, 285, Jr., JC)
79 Percy Taumoelau (6-4, 300, Fr., RS) Left Guard
72 Caleb Schlauderaff (6-4, 300, Sr., 3VL)

71 Walter Watts (6-2, 297, Sr., 3VL) Center
77 Zane Taylor (6-2, 309, Sr., 3VL)

64 Vyncent Jones (6-3, 290, Fr., RS) Right Guard
54 Tevita Stevens (6-1, 290, So., 1VL)

74 Sam Brenner (6-3, 300, So., 1VL) Right Tackle
70 Tony Bergstrom (6-6, 310, Jr., 2VL)

56 Kapua Sai (6-5, 307, Fr., RS)
Quarterback
3 Jordan Wynn (6-1, 195, So., 1VL)

7 Terrance Cain (5-11, 194, Sr., 1VL) Running Back
4 Matt Asiata (5-11, 230 Sr., 2VL) or
36 Eddie Wide (5-10, 195, Sr., 3VL)

24 Tauni Vakapuna (5-10, 220, Jr., JC)
Wide Receiver (X)
1 Shaky Smithson (5-11, 202, Sr., 1VL)

10 DeVonte Christopher (6-1, 195, So., 1VL)
88 Dexter Ransom (6-3, 211, Jr., JC)
Wide Receiver (H)
85 Jereme Brooks (5-7, 170, Sr., 3VL)

16 Griff McNabb (5-8, 168, Fr., RS) or
14 Reggie Dunn (6-0, 170, So., JC)
Wide Receiver (Z)
11 Luke Matthews (6-1, 201, So., 1VL)

8 Fatu Moala (5-11, 178, Fr., RS)
17 Mo Lee (6-1, 185, Jr., JC)
Tight End
81 Kendrick Moeai (6-5, 240, So., 1VL) or
84 Brad Clifford (6-4, 245, Sr., 3VL)

89 Dallin Rogers (6-4, 240, So., 1VL)
80 Westlee Tonga (6-4, 248, Fr., HS)
Left End
96 Junior Tui'one (6-4, 265, Sr., 2VL)

90 Derrick Shelby (6-3, 255, Jr., 2VL)
49 Trevor Reilly (6-5, 235, Fr., RS)
Tackle
98 Sealver Siliga (6-3, 305, Jr., 2VL)

93 Neli A'asa (6-2, 287, Sr., 3VL)
92 Star Lotulelei (6-4, 330, So., JC)
Nose Tackle
44 Dave Kruger (6-5, 290, So., 1VL)

91 James Aiono (6-4, 290, Jr., JC) or
68 Latu Heimuli (6-3, 305 Fr., RS)
Right End
94 Christian Cox (6-1, 250, Sr., 2VL)

99 Joe Kruger (6-7, 260, Fr., HS)
Rover Linebacker
13 J.J. Williams (6-0, 220, Jr., 2VL)

45 Boo Andersen (6-1, 230, So., 1VL)
Middle Linebacker
52 Matt Martinez (6-0, 223, Jr., 2VL) or
32 Chaz Walker (5-11, 218, Jr., 2VL)

41 Jamel King (6-2, 230, Jr., 2VL)
Stud Linebacker
18 Chad Manis (6-5, 235, Sr., 2VL)

45 Boo Andersen (6-1, 230, So., 1VL)
Cornerback
27 Brandon Burton (6-0, 185, Jr., 2VL)

9 Conroy Black (6-0, 180, Jr., RS)
Cornerback
21 Lamar Chapman (5-8, 176, Sr., 1VL) or
9 Conroy Black (6-0, 180, Jr., RS)

Nickel Back
21 Lamar Chapman (5-8, 176, Sr., 1VL)

28 Reggie Topps (5-11, 180, So., 1VL)
Free Safety
33 Justin Taplin-Ross (6-3, 214, Sr., 3VL)

35 Greg Bird (6-2, 213, Jr. 2VL)
37 Chris Washington (6-0, 205, Fr., RS)
Strong Safety
4 Brian Blechen (6-2, 208, Fr., HS)

19 Bryce Bennion (6-0, 195, So., 1VL)
31 Victor Spikes (6-0, 205, So., 1VL)
Punter
86 Sean Sellwood (6-3, 200, So., 1VL)

30 Nick Marsh (5-11, 190, Fr., RS)
Place Kicker
39 Joe Phillips (5-11, 192, Sr., 1VL)

30 Nick Marsh (5-11, 190, Fr., RS)
Kickoffs
30 Nick Marsh (5-11, 190, Fr., RS)

39 Joe Phillips (5-11, 192, Sr., 1VL)
Snapper
62 Patrick Greene (6-2, 227, So., 1VL)

18 Chad Manis (6-5, 235, Sr., 2VL)
Holder
86 Sean Sellwood (6-3, 200 So. 1VL)

10 DeVonte Christopher (6-1, 195, So., 1VL)
Punt Returns
1 Shaky Smithson (5-11, 202, Sr., 1VL)

16 Griff McNabb (5-8, 168, Fr., RS)
Kickoff Returns
1 Shaky Smithson (5-11, 202, Sr., 1VL)
14 Reggie Dunn (6-0, 170, So., JC)

85 Jereme Brooks (5-7, 170, Sr., 3VL)
9 Conroy Black (6-0, 180, Jr., RS)
10 DeVonte Christopher (6-1, 195, So., 1VL)

Analysis

The Utes are going to be good, not great, but good. The deficiencies at linebacker are worse than initially thought and could be a serious problem throughout the season. The learning curve in the secondary must be quick as well with three new starters and could also be a problem to start the season, but the upside of Brian Blechen is tremendous. The depth on defense, outside of the defensive line is a cause for concern as there aren't a lot of players that the coaches would be comfortable relying on for more than a few snaps and in the right situations.

Offensively the Utes are ready to roll. The running game is better than anticipated with Matt Asiata looking to be fully healed from an ACL injury and Eddie Wide looking better than last year. The offensive line has plugged the hole at left tackle vacated by Zane Beadles and should provide a steady contribution. The tight end situation is about as good as it can be with four capable players and two all conference caliber players in Clifford and Moeia. Integrating the tight end into the passing game was a big success in camp and should open up lanes for the running game and other receivers as well. By escaping camp without any serious long term injuries to any players that were expected to make serious contributions this year, the coaching staff has to be happy with fall camp as a whole. If Jordan Wynn can build on the success he had earlier in camp and the team can avoid major injuries, the Utes are primed for another 10+ win season.

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