SALT LAKE CITY — A year ago, Brian Blechen spent spring ball adjusting to a position switch — moving from safety to linebacker.
Now, the 6-foot-2, 215-pound junior has a new title.
"He's a wild card. He's a guy that can play a couple of different positions as per the game plan," said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. "It could be a week-to-week thing, where if we're playing a team that throws the ball a bunch he can play linebacker and if it's a heavy-duty run team, bring him down in the box as a safety and create that eight-man box with him."
Whatever the case may be, Whittingham is certain about one thing — Blechen will be on the field somewhere.
"I can't tell you where he's going to fit in right now other than he's going to be factor for us probably every week," Whittingham said.
Blechen is Utah's top returning tackler. While starting the first four games at linebacker and the last nine at safety, he wound up making 78 stops and intercepting three passes (including two in the season-opening win over Montana State). Blechen wound up earning honorable mention recognition on the Pac-12's all-conference team.
In 2010, Blechen garnered Freshman All-America honors at safety — finishing with 67 tackles and four interceptions.
Despite the success, Blechen was moved to linebacker in the offseason that followed as he added significant muscle mass to his frame.
"Nothing is ever permanent. Not in our defense," said Utah safeties coach Morgan Scalley. "You can be moved around. He's just so versatile."
Blechen has proven it. Scalley noted that his instincts made him valuable at both safety and linebacker.
"It does allow for us to kind of move him around and create mismatches here and there," Scalley said. "We'll see happens."
Blechen, however, will remain part of a group that Scalley cherishes.
"He will always be a safety. Safety pride," said Scalley, a former Utah All-American at the position. "Once you're a safety you're always a safety."
Blechen currently tops the depth chart at strong safety and will likely remain there going into fall camp.
And that is just fine with the 20-year-old from Moorpark, Calif. He hasn't been approached about playing linebacker yet and expects — at least for the "foreseeable, near future" — to remain at safety.
"I like both spots," Blechen said. "But I'm just glad to be in one spot and be able to just work with that group and just really focus on that."
Blechen is making an impact, as usual, on the field. After two weeks of spring ball, he likes what the Utes are doing on defense despite the loss of several contributors to graduation.
"Definitely. For as many guys as we lost we have that many and more guys filling in, stepping in and we've got depth in a lot of places," Blechen said. "There's a lot of good competition and the 'D' is working real hard."14 comments on this story
As a two-year starter, Blechen has taken on a leadership role and acknowledges that he's having fun helping the new guys. He's also fired up about the challenges ahead.
"(The) second year in the Pac-12 is even more fun than getting ready for the first year," Blechen said. "We've been through it once and we're excited to get back out there this year."