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Utah Football Shoring Up the Safeties

With the secondary a focus of much concern last season, Utah's defensive coaches are trying to shore up the last line of defense. The usual suspects are Eric Rowe and Brian Blechen, but a rash of injuries to the linebackers in spring may shake up the depth chart.

Eric Rowe (18) may be joined by some new faces in the Utah Utes secondary this season.
Eric Rowe (18) may be joined by some new faces in the Utah Utes secondary this season.
Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Anyone who watched the Utes last season can tell you that the weak link in the Ute’s defense was the secondary. It seemed that just about every game there was an elite Pac-12 quarterback slinging the ball through the defense or a breakout receiver running right past the defensive backs. As a result, the Utes tied for dead last in the country with only three interceptions during the season, were 109th in the country in passing defense, allowing over 267 yards per game through the air, and were 72nd in the country in scoring defense. Yet despite the low rankings, the Utes still managed to rank 60th (about the middle of the pack) in total defense.

If the Utes can manage to sure up the secondary, they might be able to create an elite Pac-12 defense for the 2013 season. So this week we here at thought we’d take a look at the potential candidates for playing time at the safety position. Surely safeties coach Morgan Scalley is excited about his "Safety Pride" group this year, but will they be able to turn things around by the time Idaho State visits Rice-Eccles Stadium?

Brian Blechen: 6’2" 215 Senior

Not since Jordan Wynn has a name conjured both excitement and disappointment in the eyes and ears of Ute football fans. After being named freshman All America in his rookie campaign in 2010, Blechen hasn’t been able to reproduce that same measure of success in recent years. Blechen was still named All Pac-12 honorable mention in 2011 and 2012 but he was splitting time at safety and linebacker, a position that Kyle Wittingham thought would suit the tenacious ball-hawk better.

After missing the entire 2013 season with knee tendonitis and gaining a medical redshirt, Blechen is ready to return to the field and lead the defense of which he was once a featured member. It is still unclear whether Blechen will return to his natural position at safety or continue to play at linebacker. Both positions have sustained injuries in the past few months so either position is a feasible option at this point.

As I previously stated, the secondary needs some serious help with speed, tenacity, and ball-hawking skills. Blechen, who has started all 35 games he’s played, has attained eight interceptions throughout his career on the Utah defense. So it seems pretty obvious that Utah would want him at safety (and, hopefully, leave him there).

Eric Rowe: 6’1" 201 Senior

Rowe has always started at safety during his three years with the Utes, but this year DC Kalani Sitake and cornerbacks coach Sharrieff Shah want to move him to corner to add experience and athleticism to the position. As a safety last year, Rowe had seven pass break-ups and 69 tackles, including one tackle for loss and half a sack.

The position switch for Rowe is still up in the air at this point, and injuries or unexpected moves in the depth chart could still affect his position when it comes time for fall camp. While the corners did struggle to contain speedy receivers last year, they have experience coming back with players like Davion Orphey and Reggie Porter returning, as well as a plethora of young corners coming into the program. I would hope that Rowe gets to remain at his natural position and adds some much needed depth to the safety core for the Utes.

Tevin Carter: 6’1" 215 Senior

The JC transfer dealt a big blow to the Utes secondary last year when he was unable to join the team because of issues stemming from his academic status with the university. Fortunately, Carter now has his academics on track and is ready to compete for a starting spot somewhere in the Utes’ secondary. While playing safety at L.A. Southwest College, Carter was the leading defender with 62 tackles (three for loss), three interceptions, four pass break-ups, and a forced fumble in 2012.

Carter will add some much needed depth to whichever position he ends up playing at. If he remains at safety, the Utes will have some interesting options to work with at other positions on the field. Perhaps they could move Blechen back to the linebacker spot for a couple of downs or in run situations, or they could move Rowe to corner to shut down an elite receiver with Carter aiding in the deep secondary. If Carter can end up playing a little corner as well, then having all three of them on the field can only help the Utes’ chances on defense.

Charles Henderson: 5’8" 195 Junior

Henderson was the leading punt returner for the Utes in 2012, averaging nearly 15 yards per punt return. He saw a drop in playing time on special teams in 2013 and is looking to finally see some time on the field at safety. Henderson’s experience as a returner proves that he is fast and athletic and could be extremely valuable as a backup safety to give the starters a quick breather. Look for him to make some decent strides in fall camp.

Joseph Bryant: 6’3" 208 Junior

Bryant, like Henderson, has primarily been a special teams player throughout his time at Utah. It’s going to be tough for someone so low on the depth chart to compete with the starters and talented incoming freshman for playing time, but injuries and position switches (Blechen and Rowe) could open up a few plays for the upperclassman.

Andre Godfrey 5’10" 186 Freshman

Godfrey was one of the Utes’ top recruits out of Miramar, Fla. The talented safety also had offers from UCLA, Wisconsin, Louisville, and West Virginia to name a few. As a senior, Godfrey had 73 tackles, two interceptions, and a forced fumble.

Godfrey’s 2013 season will most likely depend on the positions of some of the upperclassman in the secondary. If potential starters Blechen and Rowe stay at safety, then Godfrey’s best option might be to redshirt the 2013 season, if injuries begin to plague the secondary and force position moves, then Godfrey may see some early playing time as a freshman. It might be risky to start a freshman against top Pac-12 receivers, but it might be a good idea to get this kid some reps as he may be the future of the Utes’ secondary.