I'm just happy that I'm back playing this year because there was a point in the fall where I wasn't 100 percent sure where I would be at this point in the season. It's a blessing that I've been able to get back so fast. —Chase Hansen
SALT LAKE CITY — Utah strong safety Chase Hansen isn’t satisfied.
Despite finishing with a season-high seven tackles with a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, and a pass breakup in Utah’s 31-27 win over USC last Friday, the sophomore claims there is room for improvement — even if he was nominated for Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week honors.
“It’s funny because I think a lot of people would see a lot of the good,” Hansen said. “But it seems like every time I go back and watch the film I only see the bad, the things I need to improve on.”
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham has a different view. He said Hansen is playing as well as any safety in the conference.
“He’s all over the place. He’s a big-play guy,” Whittingham said. “He’s stripping the ball. He’s recovering fumbles. He’s doing a great job in coverage. He’s physical. He’s a great tackler.”
Whittingham added that Hansen is exceeding his expectations after making the move from quarterback to safety last season.
“I believed he was going to be very good,” Whittingham said. “But I didn’t know he’d be this good, this early, this quickly.”
Hansen, who is currently fourth on the team with 20 tackles, had just one career start at safety as a freshman. He made a team-high 11 stops in a 34-23 win at Washington last November before suffering a season-ending lower leg injury on the final play of the game.
Whittingham said it’s “really amazing” that Hansen is playing at the level he is despite limited experience on defense.
“He’s a quick study. He’s got a high football IQ and being a quarterback you would expect that,” Whittingham said. “As a quarterback you need to understand how defenses operate and how they work and how coverages work. So I think that was definitely an advantage for him when he made the move, because he already understood coverages.”
Although Hansen appreciates hearing from coaches that he’s improving, the former Lone Peak High star quarterback still feels like he has a long ways to go. Health-wise, Hansen said he’s getting back to the point where he was last year. The reps and experience this fall, he said, have helped a ton in that regard.
There were, however, some challenges along the way. Hansen admitted feeling almost hesitant in the season-opener against Southern Utah. It was something he had never experienced before in his football career.
“I never felt hesitant to go all out but it just felt kind of funky,” said Hansen, who explained that his healed leg isn’t where it was prior to the injury, but getting back out on the field — mentally and physically — has been huge. “I’m comfortable and I’m confident. I just want to get to 110 percent.”
Hansen continues rehab his leg as much as possible and still does a lot of things for it.
“But it’s never an excuse. I’m to the point where I’m held accountable for every good thing, every bad thing,” he said. “I’m just happy that I’m back playing this year because there was a point in the fall where I wasn’t 100 percent sure where I would be at this point in the season. It’s a blessing that I’ve been able to get back so fast.”
As for the position switch, Hansen has no regrets about making the move.
“I think my mentality has always been as a defensive player. In high school, I always wanted to hit. I was always overly aggressive,” he said. “When people told me to slide I always wasn’t going to have it. I ran, maybe, too much.”
Moving to defense, Hansen continued, has been a blessing because of his aggressive nature. He enjoyed playing quarterback and is confident he could switch back if ever asked to do so.
However, at this point, he’s quite content.
“I’m a safety,” Hansen said.
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