Looking at the Utes on defense heading into 2017

Utah will look to reload on defense after losing top players

Defensive End

Bradlee Anae (So)

Chris Hart (So)

Defensive End

Kylie Fitts (Sr)

Maxs Tupai (R-Fr)

Kylie Fitts is most likely back next season and he'll be one of the stars of the defense. An injury robbed him of most of 2016, but he should be 'the man' on the defensive line next year with the potential for a double digit sack season. Fitts can do everything. Across from him is likely to be Bradlee Anae, who was the breakout freshman in 2016. He's still a bit slight, but with some offseason weight-trainer, Utah has its next great defensive end in the making. Chris Hart is a good athlete and will push Anae for that starting spot, while Maxs Tupai has a boat-load of upside after a redshirt season. With a great motor, he'll be ready to take off in 2017. Even with the departures of Dimick and Taumoepenu, the Utes should be just as good at the end spot next year, and could be even better because of the depth.

Defensive Tackle

Filipo Mokofisi (Sr)

Alani Havili-Katoa (Jr)

Defensive Tackle

Leki Fotu (So)

Vaha Vaenuku (So)

Defensive tackle is expected to take a bit of a step back after they lose NFL players in Lotulelei and Pasini. Mokofisi will return and is a first team all conference candidate, while we might see the Leki Fotu experiment ready to take off. Fotu has as much upside as any defensive player that's come into the program since Star. Is he ready? If not, Alani Havili-Katoa will battle with Fotu, and possibly even incoming JC transfer John Penisini for the starting spot next to Mokofisi. There is a lot of untested depth behind the top 3 with Vaha Vaenuku, Howard Pututau, Pita Tonga, but we'll never question Utah's ability to develop interior defensive linemen. A great group? Probably not, but more than solid.

Linebacker

Sunia Tauteoli (Sr)

Cody Barton (Jr)

Linebacker

Kavika Luafatasaga (Sr)

Donovan Thompson (So)

Sure looks a lot like last year. Will that good a good thing for a group that struggled mightily during the 2016 season? Sunia Tauteol is a serviceable Pac 12 linebacker, but nothing to write home about. Too many missed tackles. Luafatasaga made strides as the season went on, and hopefully he can continue that over the offseason. He has upside, but it never came together last season. Getting in great shape and studying the position will help him greatly next season. Cody Barton was forced into a role that was too big for him in 2016, and coming off of surgery, should be slide into a backup spot. By the end of the season, freshman Donovan Thompson looked like the next great Utah linebacker. He's undersized, but the kid hits, is technically sound, and has a nose for the ball. They've just got to loosen up those hips or he'll have some issues in pass covered. Weber State transfer Karsen Liljenquist will be here as well, but he's coming off of a torn hamstring and while looking physically impressive, let's see if he can play at the Pac 12 level before we get too excited. If Kurtis Taufa ever makes it on campus, it'll really bolster the linebackers next year, but with JC guys, it's hard to ever count on them until they're on campus. Regardless of who is there, the Utes linebackers will be better in 2017 and have more seasoned options. It can't be worse than it was in 2016.

Nickel Back

Boobie Hobbs (Sr)

Nygel King (R-Fr)

Cornerback

Julian Blackmon

Nygel King

Cornerback

Terrell Burgess

Samson Nacua

If Tareke Lewis, the JC transfer, is here, he's going to start. Lewis is that good, but for now, we'll stick with the returning players and that's where there is a problem. There's some depth, and there is talent, but very little experience out of a group that loses its top four players in Allen, Hatfield, Thomas, and Porter. Blackmon and Burgess saw time this year as true freshmen, but also battled injuries, so there's little to off of. King and Nacua were both redshirts, and Nacua could end up at a number of positions. This is the wildest of guesses here at these spots as no one, including the coaches, know what to expect at corner at this time. Talented dudes, but no idea how everyone will translate.

Free Safety

Corrion Ballard (Jr)

Jordan Fogal (Sr)

Strong Safety

Chase Hansen (Jr)

Phillip Afia (So)

The return of Chase Hansen is huge with the departure of pretty much anyone that made an impact in the secondary in 2016. Hansen has the skills to not only be the best safety in the conference, but one of the best in the country. Jordan Fogal got the nod to start when Marcus Williams was out last season and showed some skill, but he'll be pushed heavily by incoming JC transfer Corrion Ballard who has more upside and will be here for spring ball. Andre Godfrey hasn't lived up to his promise at Utah and us running out of time. If he dedicates himself heavily, the senior-to-be has the athleticism to be an impact player. Casey Hughes has played both corner and safety at Utah, but probably projects best at the safety spot right now. There is depth behind Hansen that can all compete for time in guys like Phillip Afia, Tyson Cisrow, and Samson Nacua, who could play either safety or corner, depending on how his body goes (or even wide receiver).


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