Utah's calling card since the Ronny Mac era has been defense. The Utes have produced quite a collection of defensive players that have played in the NFL. Last year, the Utes may have fielded one of the best defenses in program history, anchored by the Mayor of Sack Lake City, Nate Orchard. Many fans and coaches believe that this defense going into the 2015 season may be even better.
At all three levels, defensive line, linebacker and the secondary, this Utah defense has play makers. Up front, there's Hunter Dimick and Lowell Lotulelei, among many others; at linebacker there's Gionni Paul, Jason Whittingham and Jared Norris, and in the secondary there's Dominique Hatfield, Tevin Carter, Reggie Porter, Justin Thomas and many more. Basically, this defense is deep, experienced and hungry.
Going into tomorrow's spring Red and White game, we're not going to see many of those names suit up. There's no need for them to, they're already proven. What I'd like to see is the next generation that will lead the team in 2016 and beyond, specifically at linebacker. Defensive line and the secondary constantly reload, but it's been a little thin at linebacker the last couple of seasons.
Uaea Masina is one name I'm looking forward to watching more. He was in the running for some serious rotational time last season, but he sidelined with an injury. He's continued to show his potential this spring, and has picked up his fair share of sacks and tackles for loss. While the defense will be really vanilla tomorrow, it will be interesting to watch how he covers and reacts to coverage situations.
This will be a good opportunity for young guys like Jake Jackson, who is fresh off of his mission, to get some run at linebacker. This is extra important this year, because Paul, Norris and Whittingham, the three starters at linebacker, are all seniors, meaning that this has to be a quick reload for the Utes in the middle of the defense. Fortunately, a couple of defensive ends can flex out at linebacker as well, speaking of Pita Taumoepenu and Jason Fanaika. Both those two are versatile enough, in the mold of Nate Orchard and Trevor Reilly, to move back and forth as needed.
Tomorrow, and every spring game, the rules are rigged for the offense to excel. To avoid injury the defense doesn't run more than a base coverage, with no more than a four man blitz from the defensive line. So the defense is at an automatic disadvantage, but it will be fun to watch some of these young guys get some play time in 'live' action.
What do you want to see from the defense tomorrow?
Here is our podcast episode previewing the spring game, check it out: