Utah football: Utes secondary learning to continue without one of its leaders
SALT LAKE CITY — With less than two weeks until the regular season opener, one position Utah football head coach Kyle Whittingham said he’s closely watching is the secondary as fall camp wages on.
The Utes entered camp with a good amount of experience at the cornerback slot, but even one injury has made all the difference.
The team learned after Tuesday's scrimmage they would be without projected starter Reggie Porter (knee) for the year at one of the cornerback spots, which is a big blow to the secondary — in more ways than just on the football field.
In addition to being a playmaker, Porter is a leader within the squad.
“It was a heartbreaker because Reggie brings us so much physicality and emotion to the secondary without even saying a word,” said freshman cornerback Boobie Hobbs. “He goes out there and makes a play and I sit back like, ‘Man, I want to make a play just like that.’
“He’s got great leadership. He always keeps you calm. Even when you’re feeling down, he’ll try to lift you up. He’s just a great person outside of football.”
Senior Davion Orphey, who was battling Porter for the second starting spot on the depth chart at the start of the week, added he would even take advice from the sophomore corner.
“He was someone that helped me out with my technique,” Orphey said. “If I needed help with something I’d ask Reggie because he’s the youngest, but has the best feet out of all of us. It really hurt when we lost him because he was going to do good things this year. You could see out here in practice. He was always consistent — one of the most consistent players out here. It hurt a lot.”
Though Hobbs said the secondary is still emotional over the loss of one of their leaders, he acknowledged in the end, the secondary is going to have to learn to move on.
“We’re still down. We’re still sad, but you know we don’t have time to be sad. The season is right around the corner for us,” Hobbs said on Friday.
The challenge now is finding the right replacements to fill the void left by Porter’s absence.
The Utes still have their top cornerback in senior Eric Rowe, with Orphey on the other side. Sophomore Justin Thomas — who Whittingham said has been battling a minor injury — remains the projected starting nickel back on the team’s depth chart.
However, the injury did shake things up. Sophomore wide receiver Dominique Hatfield has since seen considerable practice time at cornerback, in addition to playing wide receiver, and a focus has been placed on the youngsters.
“They’ve stepped it up a notch,” Whittingham said of his secondary. “Not that they weren’t working hard before because it’s a hardworking group, but they know that they’ve lost a good player and when you lose a good player, the next guy has to step up and pick up the slack and we’ve had two or three guys do that.”
In Friday’s morning practice, freshman Monte Seabrook intercepted a pair of passes. Hobbs, who has had his ups and downs, has also been talked about plenty enough in the first two weeks of camp.
“The encouraging thing is all those freshmen in the secondary have the tools and skill set to succeed,” Whittingham added. “It’s just a matter of getting fine-tuned.”
Even though he admits there have been setbacks here and there, Hobbs said he feels like he’s improved each day.
“Coach told me you’ll never be mistake free, all you can do is limit (those mistakes),” Hobbs said. “So I got way better since the first day of camp. I know my plays, I know my alignments, I know my assignments, so I just try to be perfect in that area as much as I can.”
The Utes will conduct their second intrasquad scrimmage Saturday in hopes at possibly completing a final depth chart for the team’s season opener against Idaho State on Aug. 28.
While the secondary could get shifted around between now and the Aug. 28 kickoff, Orphey said he feels like the secondary is still in a better position than last season.
He added the group is all geared up and prepared for the season opener.
“I feel like we can play today and do some beastly things,” he said.
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