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Brandon Judd, Deseret News
Utah linebacker Chase Hansen talks with the media following the Utes' first practice of spring camp at the Spence Eccles Field House on Monday, March 5, 2018.
Naturally, I probably fit better as a ’backer. I played a lot in the box even as a safety. It works out. —Chase Hansen on his experimental move to linebacker

SALT LAKE CITY — Confidence in the team’s depth and finding the best fit were two determining factors in Chase Hansen’s experimental move to linebacker, the senior defender said Monday as Utah opened its spring football camp.

“I think it was a pretty clear assessment, given who we had coming back and who was going to be on the field,” Hansen said of his move from starting strong safety to linebacker. “And naturally, I probably fit better as a ’backer. I played a lot in the box even as a safety. It works out.”

The hard-hitting Hansen has started 22 games over the past two seasons, including twice at linebacker. Last year he had 51 tackles, third-best on the team, despite playing only eight games while dealing with unspecified injuries. When the team released its depth chart prior to camp, Hansen — who earned All-Pac-12 honorable mention honors as a sophomore — was in a new position: atop the chart at Rover linebacker.

“We’ve been kicking that around for a few years, ever since his sophomore year, knowing that he was going to get bigger, put more weight on. He’s close to 230 (pounds) right now,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said.

Hansen is embracing the challenge of a new position while being able to rely on his experience from years as a safety.

“Playing at safety for so long, I’m going to be effective on the edges and in coverage. Challenges obviously are I’ve got to put on some weight and learn how to take on pullers and stuff like that,” he said.

Whittingham said the move, as many during spring camp are when experimentation is more prevalent, is not necessarily permanent.

“Right now, he’s going to spend all his time at linebacker until we decide differently. We feel he could always go back and play safety if that’s what we need him to do,” the coach said. “For right now, we really like what he gives us at linebacker. He’s got safety speed at the linebacker position.”

Hansen is being joined at Rover by another player, junior Chris Hart, who moved from a different position. Hart previously was at defensive end.

“He’s a really athletic dude. You just try to find a spot for him on the field,” Hansen said of Hart, who's played in 11 career games for Utah and has five career tackles and two fumble recoveries. “It’s a blessing to have that challenge as a team, that we’ve got to find ways as a team to get guys like him on the field.”

In addition to learning the nuances of his new position, getting himself healthy is a priority for Hansen, who missed five games last year yet was still second on the team in tackles per game at 6.38.

“It’s all added up. I feel it from time to time,” Hansen said. “I’m getting old, but I’m feeling as good now as I have in a bit being away from the banging for a while. I’m just going to keep trying to get healthy, goal No. 1 is be healthy come season time.”

Earlier this offseason, Hansen, who turns 25 this summer, faced the decision of declaring for the NFL draft. After talking it over, he felt best returning for his final year at Utah.

“And all in all, my body just needed to heal and I just needed to finish me career here at the U. the right way. I feel this year is going to be a great opportunity to do that,” Hansen said.

He’ll be surrounded by players Hansen has supreme confidence in. The senior pointed to the depth Utah has at safety as a major reason for him being able to test the waters at linebacker, specifically mentioning Corrion Ballard, Marquise Blair, Terrell Burgess and Philip Afia. Blair and Afia will miss spring ball while recouping from injuries.

"All over the field, we’ve got guys that can play. We need guys that are versatile and can play different positions," Hansen said.