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Utah football fall practice position preview: the defensive backs

Published: Thursday, July 31 2014 10:00 a.m. MDT

Utah Utes defensive back Brian Blechen (4)  works out during spring practice in Salt Lake City  Tuesday, March 18, 2014.  (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News) Utah Utes defensive back Brian Blechen (4) works out during spring practice in Salt Lake City Tuesday, March 18, 2014. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Now that last year’s secondary standout Keith McGill is in the NFL, the Utes will look for a new leading defensive back. Luckily for Utah, the team is still poised to return three starting defensive backs heading into fall camp next week.

Senior cornerback Davion Orphey (6-0, 185 pounds) returns as a starter from last season, as does senior safety Eric Rowe (6-1, 201). Senior safety Brian Blechen (6-2, 219), who missed last season due to a knee injury, returns for 2014.

Meanwhile, the lesser-experienced guys are also expected to step up big this season.

Returning experience

Utah’s projected starting secondary is peppered with experience.

Utah defensive back Keith McGill (1) and Utah defensive back Justin Thomas (12) tackle Colorado wide receiver D.D. Goodson (3) during the second half of a football game at the Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013. Utah won 24-17. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News) Utah defensive back Keith McGill (1) and Utah defensive back Justin Thomas (12) tackle Colorado wide receiver D.D. Goodson (3) during the second half of a football game at the Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013. Utah won 24-17. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

Orphey, Rowe and Blechen’s returns give the Utes secondary three seniors in the starting lineup. Rowe finished last year third in tackles with 69. He also picked up seven pass breakups in 12 games. In addition to playing safety, he is expected to play some defensive series at cornerback too.

Orphey broke up five passes last season and made 33 tackles last season, while Blechen (pictured) was the Utes’ third-leading tackler in 2012 with 58 in nine games. He also had 3.5 tackles for loss, one interception and six pass breakups before a knee injury forced him to redshirt last season.

Blechen is also expected to help Utah’s somewhat depleted linebacking corps.

Sophomore cornerback Reggie Porter (5-11, 181) enters fall camp with the starting job opposite of Orphey after a productive spring camp. Porter, who appeared in 11 games as a freshman, is anticipated to break out this year for the Utes. Fellow sophomore Mo Talley (6-0, 184), who redshirted last season after transferring from Snow College, is expected to back up Porter in the second cornerback spot.

The speedy sophomore Justin Thomas (5-8, 178) is slated ahead of senior Wykie Freeman (5-11, 174) heading into fall camp at the nickel back spot. Thomas appeared in all 12 games last season and made 25 tackles, including three for loss. He also deflected two passes.

Key additions

The most talked-about addition to the Utes secondary has been junior college transfer Tevin Carter (6-1, 215), who coaches have raved about but was injured in spring. Carter has just one year of eligibility, but could be productive in that year. He’s listed as the team’s backup free safety behind Rowe.

Incoming freshman Andre Godfrey (5-10, 186), a three-star recruit from Miramar, Florida, joins the secondary, as does three-star recruit Marcus Williams (6-0, 168) from Corona, California.

Two-star recruits, Monte Seabrook (6-0, 180), Casey Hughes (5-11, 181) and Travonne Hobbs (5-9, 175) will also join the secondary.

Dark horse

Porter looked good in spring, impressing his way into a starting spot heading into fall camp. He has some good shoes to fill, replacing McGill, but could make a solid impact as an underclassman.

General outlook

The Utes have are more experienced in the secondary heading into the season. With three starters back — all seniors, an up-and-comer in Porter and a junior college senior in Carter — Utah might have a chance to solidify a good secondary this season.

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