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Utah Utes football: Kalani Sitake says team ready to reload at linebacker spot

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 4 2015 8:37 p.m. MDT

Utah defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake isn't concerned about replacing linebackers Matt Martinez and Chaz Walker, two seniors who led the team in tackles last season.     (Tom Smart, Deseret News) Utah defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake isn't concerned about replacing linebackers Matt Martinez and Chaz Walker, two seniors who led the team in tackles last season. (Tom Smart, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Most of the talk so far in Utah football camp has been about the offense — the quarterback situation with sore-armed Jordan Wynn, the inexperienced offensive line, the unusual depth at tight end and receiver and a running back corps led by one of the top running backs in the Pac-12, John White.

So what about the defense?

Everything's just fine and dandy according to Ute defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake.

"We're good — I feel really good about where we're at right now," Sitake said. "We're seeing the same success and progress we've seen in other years. We're more experienced in some places and stronger in other places, but for the most part it's coming along really well."

Sitake says the Utes are especially strong at the defensive tackle and cornerback positions, where seniors man the starting positions, and that the safeties and defensive ends are progressing well.

Matt Martinez is met by defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake during the University of Utah at the University of New Mexico football game on September 18, 2010 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. (Tyler Cobb, Deseret News) Matt Martinez is met by defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake during the University of Utah at the University of New Mexico football game on September 18, 2010 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. (Tyler Cobb, Deseret News)

The big question mark coming into the season is at linebacker, where the Utes must replace two departed seniors who led the team in tackles last year in Chaz Walker and Matt Martinez.

So how concerned is Sitake about the linebacker position?

"Not at all," he says with a shrug. "I don't have a concern. They're just new names, just not the guys who have been starting. People will just get used to seeing other guys out there other than Martinez and Walker."

Sitake says fans will recognize Trevor Reilly, who has moved from his defensive end position to the stud linebacker spot. But he has six other guys he likes, including V.J. Fehoko, Jared Norris and Dave Fagergren.

Defensive Coordinator Kalani Sitake continues to yell for a holding call during a timeout at the University of Utah versus the University of Wyoming football game on October 16, 2010 at War Memorial Stadium in Laramie, Wyoming. Utah defeated Wyoming 30-6. (Tyler Cobb, Deseret News) Defensive Coordinator Kalani Sitake continues to yell for a holding call during a timeout at the University of Utah versus the University of Wyoming football game on October 16, 2010 at War Memorial Stadium in Laramie, Wyoming. Utah defeated Wyoming 30-6. (Tyler Cobb, Deseret News)

"You'll still see Trevor Reilly, but you'll see other names like Fehoko and Norris and Fagergren," said Sitake. "We'll still get good success from those guys."

Others in the mix include Jason Whittingham and LT Filiaga, a pair of redshirt freshmen from local high schools. Filiaga was listed as a starter at the rover position before sustaining a minor injury earlier in the week.

Reilly is the veteran of the group who made a name for himself with his outstanding performance against BYU last year. The junior from Valley Center, Calif., played defensive end and linebacker last year and he says he'll fill a similar role this year.

"I just like to make plays," he said.

Another player who should see increased playing time this year is Fagergren, who mostly played on special teams the past two years. He prepped at Highland High School and attended Southern Utah out of high school before transferring to the U.

"I think our unity's been great and all of us work well together," he said. "I'm excited — I don't think there will be a setback at all at linebacker."

Fehoko came to Utah from Hawaii with a reputation as a hard hitter, and he plans to show that more this year as the likely starter at the middle linebacker position.

"I think we're looking pretty good," he said. "The only thing we lack is experience and it comes with time. Other than that, we're in pretty great shape. The key will be trusting each other."

email: sor@desnews.com

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