Utah Spring Recap- Defense

The Utes were replacing 7 starters on defense, but seemed to have reloaded once again...

Defensive Line

The Utes had arguably the deepest defensive line the country in 2010, and despite the loss of three starters, the depth was still there heading into spring ball. With an offensive line replacing two new starters and without Jordan Wynn under center, the defensive line thrived.

Star Lotulelei is going to be the star of the defensive line and probably the star of the defense. He's shed weight from last season to add quickness, but doesn't seem to have lost any strength, as he dominated the interior of the Utah offensive line throughout camp. Lotulelei is going to be an all conference player and see double teams throughout the season.

That should help out the other defensive tackles in James Aiono and Dave Kruger. Kruger was a starter for most of his first two seasons, but has been caught by Aiono on the depth chart and didn't have his best spring. Aiono looks like he's finally found the right position after playing at end as well in 2010. With the weigh he added in the offseason, the former highly rated JUCO star looks like he is finally strong enough to do battle with the boys offensive line.

LT Tuipolotu played surprisingly well at the defensive tackle spot and should provide solid depth. He's not ideal in terms of size, but plays with a mean streak and did so throughout camp.

Defensive tackle Latu Heimuli sat out the spring with an injury and appears to be heading out on a mission before the season. He's an elite talent who was really rounding into form at the end of the season in 2010 and will be missed.

Joape Pela is in the same boat as Tuipolotu, and will add depth, but didn't have the spring some expected and dropped out of the two deep.

The breakout star of spring ball on the defensive line was sophomore Joe Kruger. Kruger outplayed his older and more celebrated brother and looked like the best defensive end at times. His unbelievable strength, combined with deceptive speed could make him the best Kruger yet.

Derrick Shelby looked to be at his best since suffering a season ending knee injury in 2009. The step that he seemed to have lost last season is making his way back as he was solid in both run stopping and getting to the quarterbacks. Shelby has some pretty nice moves coming off of the edge.

Tevita Finau didn't do much to stand out during the spring, but was solid in his play. While he'll never be a star, he's about as consistent as they come for the Utes at the defensive end spot.

Eric Dago was impressive after making the move to the line from linebacker. He's got strong legs and gets good leverage. Might be a year away from making a huge impact, but looks good at the moment.


With Brian Blechen moving up from safety to linebacker this season, the loss of Chad Manis should prove to be minimal for the Ute defense as they should have one one of the best and deepest linebacking groups in the conference, and proved it in the spring.

Blechen is an All Conference type of player who is being touted as a possible All American by the Utes. As expected, he was the star of the linebacking corp in the spring, having bulked up a bit without losing a step and still showing a knack for making big plays while bringing a fierce hitting attitude to the field.

Chaz Walker is Mr. Reliable. Always in the right place at the right time. The leading tackler for 2010 was at it again in the spring making play after play. He's not going to stand out on any highlight reals, but Walker is the Utes most consistent defender. Matt Martinez has turned into a scary player. He throws his body around as much as any defender on the team and has a knack for coming up with interceptions (had quite a few in spring ball). Martinez was all over the field in the spring and followed up his solid 2010 season. Don't be surprised when if he leads the team in tackles in 2011.

Trevor Reilly struggled some at the beginning of camp as he made the adjustment from rush end to linebacker. His biggest issues were dropping into coverage as he committed pass interference penalties and holding penalties, but made huge strides towards the end of camp. Reilly will still be used to rush the passer in certain packages, but with his height, could turn into a more athletic Chad Manis.

Jacoby Hale looked very good in spring ball and is definitely going to make an impact. Had a few youngster mistakes in the spring, but was overall impressive. He's very athletic and heady. Could have the most upside of any of the linebackers.

V.J. Fehoko is failing to live up to the hype so far and has fallen out of the coaches' two deep at the end of camp. He combines some great plays with some bonehead plays that leave you scratching your head. The talent is there, but Fehoko needs to keep from making the silly mistakes that he made in spring ball if he wants to make more of an impact in the fall.

The depth of this unit will only get better when J.J. Williams returns in the fall and incoming freshman Jared Norris (a Brian Blechen clone, but with more athleticism) arrives on campus.

Defensive Backs

Utah came into spring ball looking to replace all four starters in the secondary as Brian Blechen moved up to linebacker and Brandon Burton left early for the NFL. With a ton of players on the roster to plug in, trying to find the best foursome, the Utes figured to reload, but that didn't happen.

Early in the spring it was clear that Ryan Lacy and Conroy Black were going to be the premier corners. Both were very good, with Black appearing at times like he could be an All Conference candidate. Both look to be shut-down corners who will excel in the pass happy Pac 12.

Behind them though, the Utes might have problems. There was a rotating group of players that just couldn't seem to develop any consistencies as cornerback coach Jay Hill's hair seemed to go from light brown to grey over the six weeks of camp.

Reggie Topps got his looks and was decent at times, but had issues with deep balls at time with losing his man. Topps will be the first corner off of the bench and the nickel corner, but he didn't show enough in the spring to give the coaches much confidence in his play at this time.

Wykie Freeman is a player that the coaches love, and can't help but hate. Wykie was the poster child for the secondary in the spring with one great play followed by a 'What the hell?' play immediately after. He's still slight, but has good height and ability and will eventually be a starter down the road, but saying he was inconsistent is an understatement.

Lucky Radley started the spring at corner, but struggled mightily and moved back to running back. I know he's short, but I'll say it again, Radley best fit is at safety. If the coaches don't find a consistent spot for Radley soon, I'd be worried that this waste his talents.

Mike Honeycutt had his looks as well, but has physical limitations that kept him from being a real player.

At safety, it turned into a revolving door of mediocrity.

Terrell Reese was up and down, but seemed to have the light come on towards the end up camp, yet isn't in the two deep. He's got all the tools you'd look for in a safety and was better in my mind than the coaches' apparently,

Quade Chappuis was very impressive in my eyes and plays hard. He was consistent in camp and does well in run support. He's not the most athletic player, but had a very strong camp in my eyes.

By the end of camp Martavious Lee had moved over to safety and looks like he might be a player. Lee has the instincts and fire to be a big hitter at safety if he can get the position down.

Greg Bird missed spring ball and will return in the fall and I expect him to retake the starting safety spot. Michael Walker is a fine player, but Bird needs to be the starter. Then again, I said the same thing about Chaz Walker last season as I'm saying about Michael Walker now, and we saw how that turned out. Chris Washington missed the spring and has as much natural ability as any safety, but needs the light to come on first.

Incoming recruits Keith McGill and Eric Rowe both figure to compete for a starting spot once they arrive on campus.

Depth Chart

Left End

Tevita Finau (6-5, 283, Sr.) OR
Dave Kruger (6-5, 280, Jr.)


James Aiono (6-4, 300, Sr.)
Dave Kruger (6-5, 280, Jr.)

Nose Tackle

Star Lotulelei (6-4, 315, Jr.)
LT Tuipulotu (6-1, 300, So.)

Right End

Derrick Shelby (6-3, 262, Sr.) OR
Joe Kruger (6-7, 265, So.)

Rover Linebacker

Matt Martinez (6-0, 225, Sr.)
Jacoby Hale (6-0, 220, Fr.)

Middle Linebacker

Chaz Walker (6-0, 223, Sr.) OR
J.J. Williams (6-0, 220, Sr.)

Stud Linebacker

Brian Blechen (6-2, 222, So.)
Trevor Reilly (6-5, 233, So.)


Ryan Lacy (5-10, 185, Jr.)
Wykie Freeman (5-11, 175, So.)


Conroy Black (6-0, 186, Sr.)
Reggie Topps (5-11, 190, Jr.)

Nickel Back

Reggie Topps (5-11, 190, Jr.)
Mike Honeycutt (5-10, 185, So.)

Free Safety

Keith McGill (6-3, 200, Jr.) OR
Eric Rowe (6-1, 177, Fr.)

Strong Safety

Michael Walker (5-9, 188, So.)
Greg Bird (6-2, 214, Jr.)

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