Marcus Sanders-Williams went from fourth-string running back to first-string linebacker in one week. —Kyle Whittingham
SALT LAKE CITY — A week earlier, he was the top rusher in Utah’s scrimmage with 73 yards on eight carries.
At Saturday’s scrimmage, Marcus Sanders-Williams played a brand-new position on the other side of the ball and played very well, thank you.
Sanders-Williams, a sophomore out of Las Vegas, was asked Wednesday to consider switching from running back to linebacker after a slew of injuries to the Utes’ linebacking corps.
“They just came to me and told me they needed me and I was like, ‘Hey, if you need me, whatever I have to do for the team, I’ll do it,’" Sanders-Williams said. “If I have to move from running back to linebacker, I’m going to do it and that was it.’’
The Utes lost Gionni Paul to foot surgery earlier in the week, and Jacoby Hale was lost with an ACL injury to his knee earlier in camp. Another starter, Jason Whittingham, was already sitting out spring ball with an injury, leaving the Utes extremely thin at the linebacker position.
In Saturday’s scrimmage, Sanders-Williams was already playing with the first team, and he came up with several good plays, including a tackle on Bubba Poole for a 3-yard loss. His coaches couldn’t have been happier with his play Saturday.
“Marcus Sanders-Williams went from fourth-string running back to first-string linebacker in one week,” said Ute coach Kyle Whittingham. “The offensive coaches didn’t want to lose Marcus, because he is a great blocking back and runner, but we have a greater need at linebacker.”
“He’s a guy we felt comfortable with getting all those 'one' reps today,’’ said defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake. “He did really well, better than I thought he’d do. It’s a huge credit to his preparation. He's a really smart guy.’’
Sanders-Williams said he enjoyed doing the hitting instead of being hit on Saturday.
“It was good — I didn’t think I was going to have this much fun, but I did,’’ he said. “It was fun getting out there and hitting some people and still getting used to the flow.’’
Sanders-Williams said he played some linebacker in high school, but said it’s a “big adjustment’’ going against college players.
As for his hit on his old running back mate, Poole, Sanders-Williams said, “It was fun. I shot the A gap, Bubba was right there, and I just wrapped him up and brought him down.’’
PAUL'S STATUS: Both Whittingham and Sitake were positive about Paul coming back after having foot surgery.
“It’s a foot injury and we think we can get him back, conservatively speaking (in) five, six months,’’ Whittingham said. “Knowing Gionni Paul, my guess is — I’m not a doctor — but I think it’s going to be a little bit accelerated. That’s me trying to be optimistic.”
Sitake added: “I’m a worst-case scenario kind of guy and this was better than I thought it was going to be. We had a couple of guys who had that and they came back. I just know Gionni and he’s a resilient guy and I think he’s going to be fine.’’