HuskyandUte Breakout Player: Gionni Paul, LB, junior
I think that Gionni Paul will be the breakout player in 2014 on defense. I went to spring practice twice (once when Paul was healthy). Paul seemed to be a leader. He showed this in many ways, including his fight with Wilson. Having that fire and passion will be great for the defense this year. Paul seems like a guy who will step up and make a big play when the D needs it, which is something the defense kind of lacked last year (outside of Reilly and occasionally Orchard). He has great size and speed, so he should be the sideline-to-sideline dominant middle linebacker Utah has not had in the Pac-12. He seems to me like a guy who could lead the team in tackles if he played all year. The linebacker position, in particular, is very thin with the injury to Paul and Hale in spring camp. Having a guy like Paul healthy (I am optimistic he will be back for the Michigan game) adds a playmaker and depth to Utah's thinnest position on defense.
MNUte Breakout Player: Tevin Carter, FS, senior
I agree that Paul will be huge, especially if he gets back during fall camp. That being said, I'm going to have to choose Tevin Carter as this year's most impactful breakout player on defense. Not only has Carter been a playmaker everywhere he's played, but he grants an incredible amount of positional stability to the Utes. With Carter taking over the free safety spot, former safety Eric Rowe can now move to cornerback, Brian Blechen can slide into the strong safety spot, and cornerback Justin Thomas can shift into the slot, thereby upgrading a secondary that greatly struggled last year (tying for last in the country in interceptions counts as struggling, right?). Therefore, Carter allows last year's weakest unit to potentially become a strength this upcoming season, making him my pick for the most impactful defender this year.