In spring camp, we learned a lot about the Utah football team. The ESPN Pac-12 Blog does position breakdowns into three categories: great shape, good shape, and we'll see. They are doing post-spring position breakdowns for every team. We decided here at Block U to also do position breakdowns focusing specifically on Utah. We first broke down the offense (here), and now we are onto the defense and special teams.
Defensive Line - Great shape
Utah had a great defensive line last season, and most of the key pieces from last season are back, including 2015 First Team All-Pac-12 defensive tackle Lowell Lotulelei, Hunter Dimick, Kylie Fitts, and Filipo Mokofisi. Utah figures to have the best defensive line in the Pac-12 and one of the best in the nation. Lotulelei, Dimick and Fitts are All-Pac-12 and possibly All-American candidates. The defensive line is deep and talented. Utah will likely be able to rotate in a lot of different players without much of a drop off to keep the starters fresh. Other names to know are pass rushers Chris Hart and Pita Taumoepenu and defensive tackles Stevie Tu'ikolovatu, Pasoni Tasini, and Alani Havili-Katoa who will all likely play a lot in 2016.
Linebacker - We'll see
Utah is replacing all three starting linebackers from last season, including All-Pac-12 players Gionni Paul (first-team) and Jared Norris (second-team). Cody Barton and Sunia Tauteoli both played well in spring. Tauteoli was one of the ESPN Pac-12 Blog's five spring breakout players. With how much depth and talent Utah lost at linebacker, Utah needs to add more depth at the position. JUCO linebackers David Laufatasaga (four-star recruit) and Kurtis Taufa (three-star) both arrive in fall as well as several high school recruits. Because we do not know how each of these newcomers will perform, linebackers are a we'll see. Shane did a great job recapping the linebackers Utah added in their 2016 recruiting class that will arrive in fall, which you can read here.
Secondary - Great shape
Utah returns every starter from last year's secondary except strong safety Tevin Carter. The group is led by 2015 First-Team All-Pac-12 free safety Marcus Williams. Williams played with confidence and swagger in spring. He is a ball hawk who can play "centerfield" and can deliver a big hit. Joining Williams are cornerbacks Brian Allen, Dominique Hatfield, and Reggie Porter, who all played extensively last season for Utah. The likely candidate to replace Carter at strong safety is Chase Hansen, who made one start at strong safety (at Washington) before suffering a season-ending leg injury. Hansen made huge strides playing defense throughout the 2015 season after spending all of spring and fall camp at quarterback. With the amount of experience and depth Utah has returning in the secondary, this unit figures to be very good again in 2016.
Special Teams - Good shape
Andy Phillips is back for his senior season at kicker (he was First-Team All-Pac-12 in 2014). Phillips overall looked good in spring and should finish his excellent Utah career strong. Utah has to replace back-to-back Ray Guy Award winning punter Tom Hackett. Mitch Wishnowsky has the unenviable task of replacing the greatest punter in school history. Wishnowsky, like Hackett, is an Australian punter. He played well in spring, showing off his big leg. Wishnowsky likely has a bigger leg than Hackett but is probably not as accurate as the Ray Guy Award winner.