Troy Williams says he is not an angry man.
Maybe he should be.
The quarterback insists he’s trying to hold steady, to work hard on his circuitous route to winning the starter’s job at Utah, again, the job that used to be his and that for an entire offseason has been tossed in the air like bits of shrimp and chicken on the grill at Benihana’s.
He’s good, he says. Pay no mind to the creases in Williams’ face or the seriousness of his tone or the body language that screams frustration. His words are what they’ve always been.
Proper. Sterile. Numb.
“I just go out and be myself every day, try not to concern myself too much with which guy is doing better today or tomorrow,” he says. “ … I just try to lead my team and stay consistent.”
He adds: “I feel like I’ve earned a couple stripes here and there, just being the starter last year. I feel like the guys trust me and the quarterback is usually the guy the team looks up to. So I feel like just going out there and being confident, being vocal and guys will listen and respect you.”
What, though, about the coaches? That seems to be another matter.
They say they’re undecided. After Saturday’s scrimmage at Rice-Eccles Stadium, as many things about the Utes’ starting lineups were being sorted out and loaded into place, uncertainty reigned at the most important place — the quarterback’s mind.
No matter how self-assured he tries to be, Williams remains in limbo, same as it was last year at this time.
A season of games started by him in 2016 doesn’t appear to have mattered much. Instead, Williams has been suspended in the hang-and-tangle that is euphemistically heralded by coaches as … competition.
Kyle Whittingham backed away from that not one iota on Saturday. In fact, he clouded the picture further by praising Cooper Bateman, the candidate presumed by most to be third in line. He did offer this ray of sunshine: “We want to get to one as soon as we can.”
How about today, KW?
Name your starter now. You can do it. It’s easy. Say two words: Troy Williams.
The senior has suffered enough. Give him back the wheel. He’s been hung out to dry for eight months, allowed to struggle through the clutter through all of spring ball, through the summer months, through the first half of preseason camp.
It is time to give Williams the job he thought was his.
That was not his.
That was his to earn back.
We all know the story: Williams came to Utah, having played at Washington and then starred at a California JC. A number of big-time programs wanted him. He chose Utah. But Utah has had a hard time choosing him. The Utes brought him in, let him battle with Tyler Huntley, the then-freshman, knowing full well their intentions were to have Williams take control. But they put him through the preseason exercise just the same.
Granted, there were times last season when he looked like the man and others when he did not. Then, when the new guy, Troy Taylor, was brought in, there was hope for the offense and for Williams, but the same song and dance erupted. The QBs were told to learn the offense and to compete for the privilege of running it.
Williams has done precisely that, rep after rep after rep. No one’s worked harder.
A lot of people suspect he will be this season’s starter, but nobody has been told that. And that’s a big negative.
“There’s a lot of different ways to look at it,” Taylor says. “The most important thing is to be fair, that all three of the parties feel like they got an opportunity. I just keep my mind open and see what happens from day to day. … The competition is a part of life. You got to be able to compete and do your best.”
Everyone can appreciate the competition thing. You gotta earn what you get, right? And that’s healthy to a point. But it’s hard to believe coaches as bright as Whittingham and Taylor have no clue who their best guy is after watching them for as long as they have.
There are advantages to keeping an open mind, making sure the best decision is made. But there also are advantages to establishing with absolute certainty who your offensive leader is going to be and propping him up as such, letting the entire team know that this is its guy, the sure man who will lead them through whatever comes in the battles ahead.
Delaying it creates doubt and doubt creates corrosion.
That’s crucial for the mental wellbeing of 100 players. They all are fully aware not just of how significant their starting quarterback is, but also the attitude of the coaches toward him. How confident are those coaches — and, attendantly, the players — that this is a quarterback worth throwing their complete support behind? Should they hedge that support and make room for the other candidates, too?
It’s no minor issue.
Taylor knows this, and, deep down, fears it.
Not to mention what’s going on inside the quarterback’s own head. Having interviewed hundreds of QBs through the years, the characteristic they mention more than any other as key to their success is … confidence.
If they are made to constantly look over their shoulder, that can most adversely affect their play. Taylor needs a force under center to run his new deal. He needs somebody who knows he’s the man, who knows the offense is his, the team is his. Without any second-thoughts.
In that way, Williams has been done wrong.
If politics are playing a role in the hubbub at quarterback, if coaches figure they are likely to get the highly touted high school kid, Jack Tuttle, next year, and they also know that Huntley knows that, but this season they need Huntley to feel secure, and they fear he might get some crazy idea about taking his talents elsewhere so they need to let him know he’s got a shot at Utah … playing that game is a mistake.
It didn’t work with Brandon Cox last season and it won’t work with Huntley.
Just put the best guy on the field, plain and simple, and let everything else fall where it will. Says Huntley: “That’s the coach’s choice and we’ll just go with it.”
Williams most likely is the starter. It’s time to remove the most likely from that sentence. Give the quarterback what is his. Give him his position back. Give him his title back.
He’s tired of all the rigamarole. He’s tired of answering the questions about the quarterback race. He’s tired of the preseason games. He won’t come out and say it, but he doesn’t have to.
Just look at him. He’s past ready to be the man, once and for all.
“Hopefully, I’m the guy to get that starting job,” he says. “I feel like I can make a lot of plays and win a lot of games.”
Now, let him.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.