1 of 3
Spenser Heaps,
Defensive back Corrion Ballard warms up during a scrimmage and practice at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Friday, March 31, 2017.

Utah's biggest question mark on defense is in the secondary after losing several starters to the NFL. However, those looking to fill the void have plenty of talent and physical ability. The Utes' opponents would be foolish to take this secondary lightly despite who they lost.

Here's a breakdown of Utah's secondary for this season.

Key losses

Marcus Williams: Williams decided to leave early for the NFL after a fantastic junior season. Williams made 64 tackles, forced two fumbles and recovered two, and made five interceptions. Williams was the No. 42 pick overall in the NFL draft and is now playing for the Saints.

Brian Allen: The senior cornerback was absolutely disruptive last season with four picks and six pass breakups. The Steelers picked up Allen in the fifth round of the NFL draft.

Dominique Hatfield: Hatfield is yet another Ute defensive back now playing in the NFL as he was picked up by the Rams as an undrafted free agent. Last season he had a pick and four pass breakups.

Reggie Porter: Porter made an impact at cornerback with 43 tackles, two picks and four pass breakups. He was with the Colts before they waived him in June.

Justin Thomas: Thomas was Utah's starting nickelback last season and finished the year with a sack, one forced fumble and four pass breakups.

Projected depth chart

Free safety: Corrion Ballard, Philp Afia

Strong safety: Chase Hansen, Marquise Blair

Right corner: Julian Blackmon, Tareke Lewis

Left corner: Casey Hughes, Tyrone Smith

Nickelback: Terrell Burgess, Boobie Hobbs

Peavler's take:

The Utes have a lot of rebuilding to do after losing so much talent to the NFL. Kyle Whittingham and the Utes coaching staff made picking up defensive backs a priority this last recruiting season, and they landed two junior college All-Americans in the secondary.

The lone returning starter for the Utes is Hansen, and he's as good of a safety as Utah could ask for. He made 90 tackles, including 7.5 for loss, forced three fumbles and recovered four, and made three picks and returned one for a touchdown. Hansen has a future in the NFL and will be dangerous once again in the secondary.

Ballard is the junior college transfer who was brought in to try to fill the void left by Williams at free safety. He was the co-defensive player of the year in his conference while he played at Blinn College in Texas. He stuffed the stats sheet with five sacks, three picks, a forced fumble and eight pass breakups. He was a first-team NJCAA All-American last season. We'll see how he does against Pac-12 offenses, but the Utes have plenty to be hopeful about.

Blackmon is a young corner fighting for a starting corner position. He saw field a bit last season and was one of Utah's kickoff returners. Hughes is another corner who saw action primarily on special teams last season who is now fighting for a starting position at corner. He has the fourth fastest 40-yard time at 4.44 seconds, according to his official Utah profile.

Burgess and Hobbs are locked in a battle for the starting nickel position. Hobbs is already Utah's main punt returner and is the team's fastest player with a 4.38 second 40-yard dash time, according to his Utah profile. Burgess is not too far behind in speed with a 4.45 second 40-yard time and has two inches on Hobbs at 6-0.

Afia is a young safety who has a very nice 37.5-inch vertical jump, according to his Utes profile. Blair is another junior college transfer that the Utes brought on to help compensate for the massive losses in the secondary. He made 24 tackles for loss and was a first-team NJCAA All-American last year. Lewis is also a junior college transfer who made two picks and seven pass breakups last season at Riverside Community College. Smith is a former wide receiver who has been moved to corner and is also competing for a starting position.

One freshman to watch this fall is four-star corner Jaylon Johnson. While he may or may not see the field this season, he was a big pickup for the Utes and will be a solid defensive back.


Utah position breakdowns


Receivers: Singleton, Simpkins and Wilson look to adapt to new offense

Linebackers: Sunia Tauteoli, Kavika Luafatasaga and Cody Barton look for breakout seasons

Running backs: Zach Moss, Armand Shyne, Devonta'e Henry-Cole look to be the next star

Defensive line: Lowell Lotulelei, Filipo Mokofisi and Kylie Fitts cement solid defensive line

Quarterbacks: From projected starter Williams to those battling to back him up