SALT LAKE CITY — As spring ball winds down, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham noted that the defense has made a lot of plays.
It’s an obvious part of the process and has been a point of emphasis in camp.
“The things that we wanted to see coming out of spring ball was effort to the football, more juice to the football,” said defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley. “That’s where plays are made.”
The Utes were 12th in the country in takeaways last season and even better in 2016.
Scalley added that he feels like the defense is getting there in that regard.
DEFENSIVE ENDS: Developing depth here has also been priority this spring.
“I feel like we did that,” said Scalley, who explained that players like sophomore Maxs Tupai, redshirt freshman Mika Tafua and junior Bradlee Anae have all gotten better. Sophomore Nick Heninger, junior Caleb Repp and sophomore Davir Hamilton are others to watch.
Anae, the lone returning starter up front, drew additional praise. Scalley said he’s established himself as a guy that should be one of the top defensive ends in the Pac-12, if not the country.
“I’m really excited about his progress,” Scalley continued.
DEFENSIVE TACKLES: Depth, really good depth, has been a constant up front. Playing well has also been a hallmark. Such has been the case this spring under the direction of new assistant Gary Andersen. Scalley said he loves what Andersen has done with the guys.
Junior Leki Fotu, sophomore Hauati Pututau and sophomore Pita Tonga lead the charge. Juniors John Penisini and Shawn Leakehe are among others competing for time.
“Most guys would be happy with three,” Scalley said. “We’re excited about the depth there.”
LINEBACKERS: Once kind of a question mark, Scalley said they feel pretty good about the depth at a position where two starters have to be replaced.
Scalley noted that senior Cody Barton is doing a nice job and senior Chase Hansen is making the move from safety look like a natural fit. Junior Donavan Thompson, who made five starts in 2017, is also in the mix. Redshirt freshman Devin Lloyd and junior Chris Hart have had solid spring camps.
CORNERBACKS: Whittingham said the secondary is expected to be a strong suit this season. He added that they have performed as such this spring.
At cornerback, Scalley said the Utes probably have some of the best depth and length that they’ve had. Junior Julian Blackmon, who was the Heart of Dallas Bowl MVP, tops the cast. Junior Tyrone Smith is back after missing the 2017 season with an injury. Sophomore Nygel King and junior Josh Nurse are on the spring depth chart, while sophomore Jaylon Johnson is expected to be back from an injury this fall.
Sophomore Javelin Guidry and junior college transfer Tareke Lewis provide a lot of talent at nickel.
SAFETIES: Things are a bit unsettled because of injuries. Scalley noted that junior Philip Afia and senior Marquise Blair have not taken any reps all spring. Scalley said that junior Terrell Burgess and senior Corrion Ballard have made the most of increased opportunities in practice.
Freshman Malone Mataele is among the promising newcomers.
“The safety position is a really difficult position in this defense to learn,” Scalley said. “But I think they’re doing a nice job.”
Even so, Scalley acknowledged that depth at safety may be the real question mark on defense.