SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s receiving corps has been building depth ever since Guy Holliday began coaching the group in 2016. Improvement has come each year.
Now, as Holliday prepares for his fourth season with the Utes, he said they have the necessary receiving depth to be successful in the Pac-12.
“I’m excited. I think we’re a year older and a year better,” Holliday said. “I just look forward to the competition. That’s what makes you good — when you have a competitive group.”
The cast includes seniors Demari Simpkins and Derrick Vickers; as well as juniors Britain Covey and Samson Nacua. The sophomore class features Jaylen Dixon, Solomon Enis and Bryan Thompson, while Devaughn Vele, Terrell Perriman and Donte Banton are the freshmen in the group.
“Everyone’s looking good. Everyone’s grown up a little bit,” Enis said. “Everyone’s staying positive every single day so far. Everyone’s making plays and just stepping up.”
Enis added that the receivers are successfully adjusting to the scheme new offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig has brought to the team.
“We look good. We’re fighting and competing every day, learning every day and it’ll show,” Simpkins said. “Overall I’m so proud of this group. We’ve come a long way.”
Quarterback Tyler Huntley said the Utes are striving for perfection and have been working hard all summer long.
“We want to fix everything that’s wrong," he explained.
A year ago, Utah’s passing game ranked 11th in the conference with 221.8 yards per game.
Improvement is expected.
“We have a lot of guys who can make plays and that’s the thing. That’s why I think we’re going to be so good this year,” Dixon said. “There’s just so many guys and there’s so much depth in the receiver room.”
And those kind of numbers, he continued, tell just part of the story. Utah’s ground game with Zack Moss should help set up the pass.
“We’ve got a great quarterback back there in Snoop (Huntley) who can just throw the ball downfield,” Dixon said. “We’re not going to be a one-dimensional just-running-the-ball team.”
Dixon, who led the Utes with 18.4 yards per catch last season, noted that the receivers are all on the same page — team success over individual accolades. That’s what it's all about.
“If we’re doing things that bring success to this team I really don’t think anybody cares about the number of catches they have, or the yards, or touchdowns,” Dixon said. “The real stuff that matters is the wins.”
In 2018, Covey made a team-high 60 catches and was the only Utah receiver with more than 32 (Dixon). The other returnees making receptions last season include Nacua (31), Simpkins (26), Enis (13) and Thompson, who made one in a redshirt season.
“I thought last year we were extremely productive,” said Holliday, who explained that several receivers came in and made plays.
The number of catches, he continued, isn’t his primary concern. He looks more at the production of the unit.
“I think when you’re really good that’s what you want,” Holliday said.
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said it isn’t all that complicated. In fact, the task at hand is fairly simple.
“You get your best guys out there and try to put them in situations to succeed,” Whittingham said.
Thus, camp has been quite competitive for the receivers. Whittingham, in fact, noted that no separation has really taken place. He compared it to the tight battle at kicker.
The Utes, he said, would like to have as many as nine or 10 on the travel squad.
“It’s no secret we’re going to be more of a run-heavy team and so that’s our identity,” Covey acknowledged. “I like the fact that we have one, but we definitely will get opportunities.”Comment on this story
And when the ball is being distributed, Ludwig said he just needs the guys that are getting open to get the catches. As such, Simpkins added that the focal points center around being balanced and making plays when they come to you.
“As a group we’re not too worried about the number of catches we get,” Simpkins said. “We know that we’ve got to depend on each other in order to make plays. So everybody on the field has to do their one-eleventh.”
Really, it’s a team effort.
“We just want to win football games,” Thompson said. “We don’t really care who gets the ball.”