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Utes football: Utah returns a vast amount of experience at safety

Published: Thursday, April 4 2013 7:10 p.m. MDT

Utah's Eric Rowe during practice Tuesday, March 26, 2013 at Rice Eccles Stadium.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — When it comes to experience and returning starters, safety is a position of wealth for the Utah Utes. They return all five players who made starts last season, including headliners Eric Rowe and Brian Blechen. Tyron Morris-Edwards, Quade Chappuis and Michael Walker are the others.

“It’s an exciting group, obviously. Right now it’s fun because we’re trying to get the younger guys to come along,” said Utah safeties coach Morgan Scalley, who noted the importance of building more depth. “In this league stuff happens and you’ve got to be able to bring guys in and not miss a beat.”

Blechen was suspended for the first three games last season and Rowe later missed two because of a hamstring injury. Chappuis wound up making four starts, while Morris-Edwards made one. Walker, who is now competing for the nickel back spot, ended up getting a start at strong safety against Arizona when Blechen opened the game at linebacker.

This spring, several others are getting reps at safety. The cast includes sophomores Charles Henderson, Josh Anderson and Darchon Taggart.

“If we can get those guys to come along we’ll be in good shape,” Scalley said.

If all goes as planned, Blechen may end up as a linebacker — especially if things work out with junior college transfer Tevin Carter joining the mix this fall.

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said that Blechen is on the bubble again when it comes to being a safety or a linebacker. He's made starts at both positions over the past two seasons.

“A lot of it has to with how Tevin comes in and plays,” Whittingham explained.

Carter, a former wide receiver who redshirted one season at California before transferring to Southwest College in Los Angeles, honed his skills on defense last season — using his 6-foot-2, 220-pound frame to make a team-high 62 tackles and three interceptions.

“We’re excited for Tevin to come in but when they get here they’ve got to learn and they’ve got to prove that they can do it,” Scalley said. “So we’re excited for him to come in. We believe he can do it, but time will tell.”

In the meantime, Blechen has been taking reps — albeit limited ones because of lingering tendinitis — this spring at both linebacker and safety.

“It’s kind of like last year and last year we didn’t have the luxury to leave him at linebacker. We just didn’t have that luxury and so we’ll see,” Whittingham said. “He makes us a more athletic group at linebacker if we can get that done, but we’ll see what happens.”

Whittingham added that Blechen, who was the team’s third-leading tackler in 2012, is a vital part of Utah’s defense and will play up front as a senior if the staff has its druthers.

As far as a position is concerned, Blechen doesn’t mind where he ends up. He jokingly added quarterback to safety and linebacker.

“Wherever. It doesn’t matter to me,” Blechen said. “Whatever will help out the defense. By now, I pretty much know every position. So whatever works.”

Blechen’s versatility, Scalley acknowledged, is a great thing for the Utes.

“He’s had experience at both and it allows you to do a bunch of different things as far as disguise purposes you can go and not have to change personnel.”

Depth allows for such options. Even so, Scalley isn’t sure the position is as strong as it was during the Sugar Bowl championship year. The 2008 team featured safeties like Robert Johnson, Joe Dale, Terrell Cole and Deshawn Richard.

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