SALT LAKE CITY — Utah safeties coach Morgan Scalley says Eric Rowe is one of those guys. Instead of resting or playing video games during his downtime, Rowe makes his way to the film room. He's constantly trying to grow as a player.
That, Scalley explained, isn't always easy for a true freshman. Mentally putting together instruction from the coaches and athleticism on the field is a challenge.
"It's a tough deal," Scalley said. "But some guys get it. Eric is one of those guys."
The proof is on the depth chart. Rowe is currently sitting on top at two positions, free safety and strong safety — sharing No. 1 reps with Keith McGill and Michael Walker, respectively.
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham acknowledged the 6-foot-1, 185-pound defensive back from Spring, Texas, is doing a great job.
"He continues to make plays and make very few mental mistakes," Whittingham said. "For a true freshman at the safety position that's rare because that is the most complicated, most involved position on defense as far as variables."
Rowe, who was one of the top defensive players in the Greater Houston area the past two years, is in position to become Utah's next Eric Weddle or Brian Blechen, who earned Freshman All-America honors in the secondary.
"Now he's got a ton to learn just like Brian did last year and just like Weddle did his freshman year. There's a ton of learning that goes into it," Scalley said. "But he has that confidence about him and he cares. He cares and has the athleticism to do it."
At Klein High School, Rowe capped his career with 207 tackles, nine interceptions and four forced fumbles.
"I don't take anything for granted," Rowe said of the work he has put in to move up the depth chart. "I took advantage of my reps, got in, and now they've got me going with the ones. So I'm still trying to make plays consistently."
Rowe has done so while learning all about both safety spots. While the free safety most often plays in the middle of the field, the strong safety has a lot of assignments and responsibilities depending on the offensive formations the defense faces.
"Learning both is a little bit harder but I've got it down now," Rowe said.
The 18-year-old is determined to capitalize on the situation. He expected to make the two-deep depth chart at Utah. Rising to No. 1, though, came the old-fashioned way — through hard work.
The investment, thereof, has added to Rowe's resolve.
"I've been working to get the No. 1 spot," he said. "Now that I have it, I have to take advantage of it."
Simply put, Rowe isn't about to let it go.
"If another safety is better than me I'm not going to be mad because he earned it," he said. "Like I earned my spot."
Utah camp report
DAY 14 (first practice): A morning session at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
STANDOUTS: Utah coach Kyle Whittingham noted the play of cornerback Mo Lee, safety Eric Rowe and wide receiver Dres Anderson.
INJURIES: Running back Tauni Vakapuna, who is No. 2 on the depth chart, did not practice because of swollen knee.
DAY 14 (2nd practice): An afternoon session at Ute Field.
STANDOUTS: Whittingham said that quarterback Jordan Wynn looked sharp.
INJURIES: WR DeVonte Christopher tweaked his ankle.
NEXT UP: Camp concludes Saturday morning with a scrimmage at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company