Safety Eric Rowe relishing the opportunity to help the Utes at cornerback

Published: Thursday, April 3 2014 7:20 p.m. MDT

Utah's Eric Rowe closes in on UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley in the second half of a game at Rice-Eccles Stadium on Thursday, Oct. 3, 2013.

Matt Gade, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Eric Rowe may be the University of Utah’s least experienced cornerback.

But the coach over that position group said the senior doesn’t even have to step on the field to make the Utes a better football team.

“I love him,” said Utah cornerbacks coach Sharrieff Shah. “I love his attitude. He makes our room better having such a smart kid. You sit there with him and he’s able to say, ‘Coach, as a safety, this is what we’re looking at.’ Now my boys, my corners are thinking about their safety. Like, ‘Oh, this is why we need to get certain jam in the coverage.’ So to have his voice in there is always good.”

After three years playing safety for Utah, the business administration major was asked to make the switch to cornerback this spring. He’s splitting time between the two positions right now, but Ute coaches said they believe the former Texas prep standout will spend most of his time at cornerback in his final collegiate season.

“To have him have the ability to switch back and forth from corner to safety, it’s twofold,” Shah said of the rationale behind having him take reps at both positions this spring. “One, until we are deep enough at (safety), we need our best 11 athletes on the field. Hands down, Eric Rowe is one of our best 11 athletes.” With at least four promising freshmen vying for time — and senior Brian Blechen back from a season-long injury last year — Utah should have plenty of options at safety. The place the Utes needed more depth was corner.

“We found ourselves in a bad situation the last few years at certain points throughout the season,” said Shah. “We weren’t deep enough, and we’re scarcely deep enough now, so to prevent the same situation … we need the best people on the field.”

The defensive staff got together and decided Rowe was the best candidate to move to corner.

“He was awesome,” said safeties coach Morgan Scalley of Rowe’s willingness to change positions. “He’s always been a great kid, a team player. He misses the contact; he misses being involved in the action every down.”

But when coaches looked at what they needed to be successful in the 2014 campaign, there was no doubt what they needed to ask of Rowe, who was a freshman All-American and honorable mention All-Pac 12 as a sophomore.

“He’s so explosive,” Scalley said. “A kid like that, his size (listed at 6-1, 205 pounds) and can run a 4.39 (40-yard dash). He can flip his hips and move the way he does; he’s really doing some good things.” In just a few practices, Rowe has proved himself valuable on and off the field because of his intelligence, work ethic and athletic skill.

“The ability he has to play physical on the line of scrimmage, to run with wide receivers,” said Scalley. “He’s not a natural post player, a center fielder, but we had him out there out of necessity. But with the group we have coming in (to play safety), we feel like we can have a good enough group of athletes to take care of that.”

Scalley said asking a player to change positions a year before graduation is not a small thing. But if any Ute defensive athlete is equipped to do it, it’s Rowe.

“The corner spot is the least amount of learning scheme-wise,” Scalley said. “It’s the hardest position on the field — period. You pull up the first three days of him at corner (on film) and it’s like, ‘Wow.’ Yeah, there are some really good things.”

Rowe would rather play safety. It’s what he’s always played, what he enjoys, and he believes it is where his strengths are most evident.

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