He knows the whole defense and I think he’s just got to work on his technique and make sure that he polishes that up. But he’s ready. He’s game ready, and I’m just excited to have him there. —Utah defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake, on Eric Rowe
SALT LAKE CITY — Eric Rowe is making what Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said is a “smooth adjustment” to cornerback. After playing and starting in 35 games at free safety over the past three seasons, the senior is set to cover new ground for the Utes this year.
“Eric has made a seamless transition,” Whittingham said. “We asked him to do a bunch of coverage as a safety over the past couple of years that has really prepped him for this. So this is not something that is completely foreign to him.”
At 6-foot-1 and 201 pounds — with 4.39 speed in the 40 — Rowe brings great size, athleticism and three years of extensive college football experience to the position.
“He knows the whole defense and I think he’s just got to work on his technique and make sure that he polishes that up. But he’s ready,” said defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake. “He’s game ready, and I’m just excited to have him there.”
Brian Blechen’s return and the addition of Tevin Carter has given Utah the luxury of moving Rowe to corner, a move similar to the switch of Keith McGill last season. McGill went on to be drafted by the Oakland Raiders.
The NFL, though, isn’t on Rowe’s mind when it comes to switching positions.
“I just look at it as a way to help the team. Because the ultimate goal is to just go to a bowl game,” he said. “It’s about my senior year.”
Rowe’s attitude is one of many variables that cornerbacks coach Sharrieff Shah appreciates about the former Texas prep star.
“To have somebody with his foundation to work with makes me happy,” said Shah, who noted that Rowe is a phenomenal athlete, unbelievably intelligent, has more desire than anybody else and is a leader. “So I have good clay to mold.”
Although Shah acknowledged that Rowe still has to make some good improvements in a few areas, the coach “loves where he is right now.”
Shah said that Rowe is literally getting a little bit better every day.
While being taught corner-specific techniques, Shah said that Rowe has promised that he’s going “to keep working.”
That’s saying something considering Rowe’s resume.
In his career at Utah, Rowe has made 202 tackles (116 solo) with 21 pass breakups and two interceptions. He was a freshman All-American in 2011 and a Pac-12 honorable mention selection in 2012. Academically, Rowe is a business major and is scheduled to earn his bachelor’s degree this fall.
Then there’s the leadership thing. Shah noted that in a recent practice he was impressed with how Rowe was encouraging the defensive backs through a tough stretch when the offense was succeeding. Shah said he needs him to “rally those guys,” adding that he likes what he’s doing now.
“He’s one of our leaders on defense,” Whittingham said. “One of the team leaders.”
It’s a role that Rowe accepts. He’s regularly sought for advice by many of the younger safeties on the team.
“Any time the safeties have questions they can always ask me and, you know, they do,” Rowe said. “I still know what to do at safety. So on the field or off the field they always ask.”
Meanwhile, Rowe admits it has been nice to focus on one position and have a home on the field as a player. In spring ball, Rowe saw action at both safety and cornerback — although he didn’t really mind all that much — and was listed as a starter at each spot.
As a cornerback, Rowe said he brings a physical aggressiveness to the position. He also noted that he can run with receivers because he’s just as fast and because of his size they won’t be able to push him around.
“So I guess that’s a help for the defense,” he said.