On Tuesday we took a look at the offense and who the best players for each position group are heading into next season. Today we'll look at the defense. Compared to the offense, the defense is considerably more clear cut as to who the major players will be. The defensive line is absolutely stacked even with the loss of Stevie Tu'ikolovatu. The secondary is also solid with several key returners.
This is maybe the most talented position group on the field. You've got Hunter Dimick and Kylie Fitts at defensive end who are both very disruptive players in their own right. Filipo Mokofisi and Lowell Lotuleilei in the middle who control the line of scrimmage. So who's the best? It's hard to go wrong with the big guy in the middle, Lowell Lotuleilei. The 6-2 310 lb.s space eater has been a factor since day one on campus, earning All Pac-12 honors during his first two seasons. He is a uniquely disruptive force in the middle of the defensive line and can alter an offense almost single handidly. This is not to take away from the others on the line as they also are monsters, but Lotuleilei is the engine in the middle who does the heavy lifting.
Not a lot of film or stats to work with here. There have been promising moments in the spring from linebackers Sunia Taueoli and Cody Barton. David Lufatasaga is a highly touted Juco player who figures to have an impact, but absolutely none of them have made any meaningful contributions in a FBS game. If you pinned me down I probably lean toward Lufatasaga having the greatest impact as a player with a lot of experience playing at the Juco level and a highly coveted player. He has good speed off the edge and a nose for the ball. That being said, he isn't even on campus yet so it's hard to give him the nod over the others. For now it's hard to give anybody in this position group the edge.
There are few returning players to pick from at this position group. Brian Allen, Justin Thomas, Dominique Hatfield and Boobie Hobbs all have solid playing experience. There is some fresh new talent on the roster as well with true freshman Nygel King and Terrell Burgess. Allen and Hobbs have had some good moments and Justin Thomas has been solid for three years at the nickel position, but Dominique Hatfield is the corner other teams worry about. The senior missed some time last season with legal troubles and had a few tough games (Arizona) but provided a huge lift for the team when he returned from suspension after missing last year's season opener. Entering his final year of college eligibility look for Hatfield to have a big season as he tries to prove to NFL scouts that he has a future at the next level.
The Utes are in a good position at safety with junior Marcus Williams at free safety and sophomore Chase Hansen looking like he'll come back at strong safety again this season. Hansen played in only four games at safety for Utah last season, starting the year at quarterback before switching to defense mid year. Despite his role change, he played very well, racking up 17 tackles, 9 tackles for a loss, a sack and a forced fumble. Late in the season, he beat out incumbent starter and very good safety Tevin Carter for the starting job against Washington before suffering a freak injury on the last play of the game to end his season. He looks like he will be a key fixture in the secondary this season. However his partner Marcus Williams at free safety earns the moniker of best player in the safety group.
This could change by the end of the year, but as of now it's hard to argue against Marcus Williams. He is a first team All Pac-12 safety and Pac-12 All Academic selection. He has played in all 26 games of his collegiate career starting 19 of them. He had 66 tackles and led Utah in interceptions with five. On top of his production and experience he is extremely athletic with a 38" vertical jump tying him for best on the team. Williams should just be coming into his own as a team leader this season and he enters his junior year. The talent and experience he already possesses give him the advantage at Safety.