2012 Preview: Defense

Looking at the Utes on the defensive side of the ball heading into 2012

Defensive Line:

Starters- Joe Kruger, Dave Kruger, Star Lotulelei, Nate Fakahafua (Trevor Reilly)

Backups- Tenny Palepoi, Seni Fauonuko, Thretton Palamo, Hunter Dimick

Last season, the strength of Utah's team was the defensive line. The 2012 season will follow suit. Led by All-American Star Lotulelei, this defensive front will keep opponents awake at night, fearful of the assignment at hand. The Kruger brothers, Dave and Joe, enter this season poised to capitalize on the attention given to Star. Emerging sophomore Nate Fakahafua will bring athleticism and pass rush abilities to the unit. Depth will also be a strength for the Utah defensive line, with Tenny Palepoi, Seni Fauonuko, Thretton Palamo and Niasi Leota ready to step in at a moment's notice. The X-factor of this unit will be Trevor Reilly, who doubles as LB.

Linebackers

Starters- Trevor Reilly, V.J. Fehoko, Jared Norris

Backups- L.T. Filiaga, Dave Fagergren, Boo Anderson, Jason Whittingham, Reshawn Hooker

When fall camp began the linebackers were quickly pegged as the weak link of Utah's defense but as the days went by it became clear that things weren't as dire as some had originally thought. Jared Norris emerged as a smart, speedy player who is great in the pass game; Trevor Reilly has only gotten better after his solid 2011 campaign; and VJ Fehoko quickly locked down the middle position with his high-motor and his ability to always find the football. Throw players like LT Filiaga, Dave Fagergren, and Jason Whittingham in the mix and Utah exited camp with a solid group of backers who, with exceptional defensive linemen in front of them and quality defensive backs behind them, should be able to more than hold their own.

Cornerbacks

Starters- Ryan Lacy, Moe Lee, and Wykie Freeman (nickleback)

Backups- Tyler White, Reggie Topps, Mike Honeycutt, Joseph Smith, Lewis Walker, Chandler Johnson, Justin Thomas

Continuing the theme of talent and depth, this group of cornerbacks may be one of the deepest groups in school history. Moe Lee is vastly improved from last year and should be the leader of the bunch. Ryan Lacy is a tough cornerback that is not scared to hit, and is a legitimate All-Conference candidate. Wykie Freeman is listed as the starting nickleback heading into the season, and is one of the fastest players on the team. Reggie Topps should win back the starting nickle spot upon his return week 2 vs Utah State, and should have a good senior year. Tyler White is an under the radar cornerback that is primed for a breakout season. Mike Honeycutt, Joe Smith, and Lewis Walker are all viable backups that have showed some ability in fall camp. Justin Thomas is a bright freshman, but with all the depth at corner will have a hard time finding the field. With all eyes on the D Line going into the season, I fully expect the cornerbacks to steal some of the spotlight by the end of the 2012 season.

Safeties

Starters- Eric Rowe, Quade Chappuis, Brian Blechen (Suspended)

Backups- Terrell Reese, Michael Walker, Tyron Morris-Edwards

Rowe returns after a freshman all american campaign that saw him emerge as one of the best young freshman in the country. Most players make their biggest improvements from their freshman to sophomore year. If he continues on his current trajectory, the free safety out of Texas will compete for all Pac 12 honors. Blechen is the starter opposite Rowe, but will sit out the first three games of the season due to suspension. When he returns, the junior, who has started since his true freshman year, will bring a leadership presence and knack for making big plays. One of the hardest hitters in the conference, Blechen brings a linebacker's mentality to the strong safety spot. In Blechen's place during the suspension will be junior, and former walk-on Quade Chappuis. Chappuis was a solid backup last season and emerged as a Pac 12 caliber player during the spring when he received most of the first team reps. While not possessing the same upside as Blechen, Chappuis is more than adequate as a fill-in during the Blechen suspension. The depth behind the starters is decent, but young and inexperienced. Outside of the Rowe, Blechen and Chappuis, no one has played much.

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