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Commentary: 10 critical players on the Utah Utes defensive two-deep

Published: Friday, Sept. 4 2015 7:53 p.m. MDT

Wykie Freeman, left, and Joseph Smith after the University of Utah football team practices at Rice-Eccles Stadium Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2011, in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Tom Smart, Deseret News) (Tom Smart, Deseret News) Wykie Freeman, left, and Joseph Smith after the University of Utah football team practices at Rice-Eccles Stadium Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2011, in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Tom Smart, Deseret News) (Tom Smart, Deseret News)

Not many undergo injury problems like Jordan Wynn did.

But like the former Utah quarterback — who was limited in his career due to well-chronicled injuries — many Utes on defense had troubles staying on the field this spring. The three brightest returning stars from Utah’s defense — linebacker Brian Blechen (tendinitis) and defensive ends Trevor Reilly (knee) and Nate Orchard (back) — were sidelined for much of spring practice.

Fans shouldn’t become as concerned with the defense as they rightfully were with the former quarterback. Wynn’s shoulder separation — the fourth of his career — in the second week of last season derailed the Utes’ plans of competing for the Pac-12 South Division title.

Blechen, Reilly and Orchard will lead the defense heading into August practices — though after safety Eric Rowe, mainly fresh faces will join them in the first unit. After all, the defense sent six players to the NFL (three from the defensive line), five of whom apparently survived rookie mini-camp.

Utah's Brian Blechen ,right, bounces off Washington State's Brett Bartolone after hitting him Saturday, Nov. 3, 2012 as Utah and Washington State play at Rice Eccles Stadium. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News) Utah's Brian Blechen ,right, bounces off Washington State's Brett Bartolone after hitting him Saturday, Nov. 3, 2012 as Utah and Washington State play at Rice Eccles Stadium. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

Reports of seven returning starters are misleading since as many as four started at safety, filling in for others for no more than a handful of games.

But with two linemen that coach Kyle Whittingham says are past due to start, the defense should be at least as solid as last season’s, which made Utah at least competitive despite the ineptitude of the passing game. The Utes ranked 49th nationally in scoring defense, compared to an offense that finished 75th in points per game.

Though they may not all start this fall, here are 10 Utes to carefully follow on the defensive side of the football if Utah is to be successful this year.

Rhett Wilkinson is the project manager for UtahPolicy.com and hails the true-blooded Aggies from Utah. The co-founder of Aggie BluePrint.com, he's been an intern for the Deseret News and other publications. rhett.wilkinson@usu.edu | @wilklogan

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