SALT LAKE CITY — As is the case with the offense, Utah’s defense believes it’s also in a good place after completing camp.
Junior cornerback Julian Blackmon likes where the Utes are at as the Aug. 30 season-opener against Weber State approaches.
“I really like the confidence that the defense has,” Blackmon said. “(We’re) putting ourselves in the right positions.”
Blackmon also noted that there’s time to get even better before the first game. Defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley said the group is quite eager to get going. Instead of hitting the offense and each other, they’re ready to hit someone else.
Scalley liked much of what he saw from the group in camp.
“I feel like we’re running to the ball better (with) a little bit more sense of urgency,” he said. “We’re kind of establishing some depth going into that first week.”
And the compliments continued. Scalley added that the defense has a great attitude and he loves their leadership.
“These guys are workers, not a whole lot of excuses or whining or complaining,” he said. “It’s a fun group to work with.”
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham acknowledged the defense is in a good spot. However, he noted that there’s always work to do when it comes to run fits, pass coverage and all that goes into it.
“It’s a continual process,” Whittingham said. “Even when you’re in the season, you just keep repping it over and over and over.”
Whittingham acknowledged that the Utes, overall, may be the deepest and most talented at each position group since the program joined the Pac-12 in 2011.
On defense, he’s been especially complimentary of the secondary.
Whittingham said there’s not much different about them. They’re just better. He credited position coaches Scalley (safeties) and Sharrieff Shah (cornerbacks) for their work in building things up.
A look at the state of the defense:
DEFENSIVE ENDS: Junior Bradlee Anae is the lone returning starter. The honors candidate will man the left side, while three others are competing to start at right end — redshirt freshman Mika Tafua, junior Caleb Repp and sophomore Maxs Tupai.
Scalley said the starting role is still up for grabs. The move of sophomore Bapa Falemaka from tight end has been a success. Scalley noted his athleticism and hands.
DEFENSIVE TACKLES: Utah’s reloaded interior line features juniors Leki Fotu and John Penisini, plus sophomores Hauati Pututau and Pita Tonga. Freshmen Jackson Cravens and Paul Maile are also in the mix.
LINEBACKERS: Scalley said the Utes have six players who fill the role nicely. Senior captains Chase Hansen and Cody Barton are the veterans leading the group. Others in the rotation include juniors Donavan Thompson, Francis Bernard and Bryant Pirtle, as well as redshirt freshman Devin Lloyd.
CORNERBACKS: Blackmon is back after earning MVP honors in Utah’s Heart of Dallas Bowl win over West Virginia last December.
“Now I’m here and I’ve just got to be better this year,” Blackmon said.
On the left side, sophomore Jaylon Johnson is the projected starter. Junior Tyrone Smith entered camp as the listed backup. Junior Josh Nurse, a former safety, has added to Utah’s depth at corner.
NICKELBACKS: Sophomore Javelin Guidry and junior college transfer Tareke Lewis are the established front-runners.
SAFETIES: Seniors Corrion Ballard and Marquise Blair are back as starters. Both of the junior college transfers made an impact last season. Ballard made a pair of interceptions, while Blair had 48 tackles before an injury ended his season after nine games. Juniors Philip Afia and Terrell Burgess opened camp as the primary reserves.