Utah defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley had a solid debut as the man in charge of the Ute defense last season. After waiting in the wings for years to be given the reins to the Utah defense, Scalley led a unit that was a bi driver behind Utah’s nine win season. In 2017, Scalley is gunning for bigger and better things.
UteZone sat down with Scalley to get his thoughts on what will be different as he enters his second spring as Utah’s defensive coordinator and what Ute fans should expect from a defense that looks poised to reload in 2017.
What’s going to be different for you as you enter your second season calling plays?
"I want to be down on the field. From the bowl game, I was able to learn that I’m probably a little bit more effective on field. As much as I see things from up top, the inability I have to communicate quickly across the defense is something where I’m more effective down on the field. The ability to speak to all of the position groups, not just the safeties on the phone. When you ask the position coaches to relay information, you’re relying on different voices going to their position groups, whereas on the field I can gather everyone up and say, ‘Here’s the deal.’
That’s something that kind of opened my eyes a bit being down on the after halftime. I came down because of the speed of the calls. Indiana was going so fast that relaying information from me to Ena to the players was not fast enough. So I came down and my eyes were opened to how much I was able to communicate what I want to [the players]. So I’ll more than likely be down on the field."
Did you learn anything schematically in that first year as defensive coordinator that you’ll carry into this year?
"Keeping it simple. That’s something that I didn’t necessarily learn, but the thought of keeping things simple for the defense was strengthened. Schematically, we’ll not have many variables. We’ll give the variables to the guys that can handle it. In some ways [the players] are like a professional because they don’t have time to have a job. In other ways they’re not. They have school and social lives. It’s not like they’re in the NFL where it’s their profession and you can require them to watch film."
What’s your number one priority as you work with the defense this spring?
"The biggest focus is going to be keeping it simple and making sure that we emphasize the fundamentals and techniques that we do most often. We were a poor tackling team last year, and it’s not because we didn’t work on it. We need to work smarter in some of the drills we do. We’re working on all aspects of becoming a better tackling team. Part of that is just getting the right personnel on the field as well.
[We’ll be working on] fundamentals, techniques and understanding situational football. Who is this team on first and second down? Who is this team on third down? Who are they in the red zone? How do they handle a two minute situation? It’s about understanding what teams’ tendencies are. We’ll focus on trying to get a two deep at all positions and playing better fundamental defensive football."
The secondary is going to be a work in progress this spring, as several key additions won’t arrive until fall. How critical will a strong spring be to the players already in the program?
"It doesn’t change what we’re doing. At some point you have to be able to project and say, ‘Of the guys that are coming in this fall, who do we think will be our best 11 and schematically how do we match our best 11 to what we want to accomplish?’ Is a 5th D lineman more valuable to us than having a second backer? Is having a third safety a possibility and do we have the depth to do that? We don’t want to re-invent the wheel, but we do want to take advantage of who our best 11 are. For the guys in the program this spring, especially the guys in the secondary, now’s your opportunity to show out. Now’s your opportunity to show us that you can do it at this level. Because when we get those younger guys coming in, we’re going to throw them in the fire. We’re going to do everything we can to develop them. That’s why we recruited them. For guys in the program that maybe haven’t shown us what they can do or had extensive playing time, now’s the opportunity for them to stand up and say, ‘Hold on, what about me?’
Guys like Philip Afia I’m excited for. I’m excited to see what kind of spring he can have. Guys like Tyson Ciserow, it’s going to be an important spring for him. Ballard’s here, which is nice. It gives us an opportunity to see what he’s all about. Jordan Fogal, who had some success last year backing up Marcus Williams, it’s going to be an important spring for him.
At the corner spots, Tyrone Smith. We moved him from receiver to corner. There’s some real promise in him. It’s a great opportunity for him to say, ‘Hey, put on the breaks. I can do this.’ Julian Blackmon is someone to watch. Casey Hughes is a guy that hopefully comes to the party. He’s got the speed and the talent, he just needs to put it together. Terrell Burgess, who we meddled with at nickel at the end the year. I’m excited about him in that position. Boobie Hobbs, who has always been a backup to Justin Thomas, it’ll be a good battle between those two to see who that nickel spot is going to belong to. Add Guidry to the mix when he comes in."
What do you expect from the linebackers this spring?
I’m excited for that position group because none of them had a lot of big time playing experience and they got better throughout the season. Kavika [Luafatasaga] is a guy that we think his best football is still ahead of him. Sunia Tauteoli played half of the season hurt, so hopefully he can stay healthy. Cody Barton is a guy that had his lumps, but we still think has promise. Karsen Liljenquist is a guy that played really well for Jay Hill at Weber State. He’s looking really good. Those guys with Donovan Thompson are the main guys competing for spots this spring, and then you’ll have the Lloyd kid coming in this fall and I think we’ve got a pretty good group at backer.
There are some questions around defensive end with the departure of Dimick and Taumoepenu. Who are you expecting to step up in the spring?
Caleb Repp is now a full time defensive end. He’s got athleticism. He’s a guy we’re hoping can get to 230 pounds. He’s putting on weight right now. He’s strong. He’s athletic, so we’re hoping he can be a guy. Chris Hart, it’s his spring right now to see what he can do. Kylie Fitts is a known commodity and will get limited reps. Bradlee Anae is a guy we’re excited about for obvious reasons.
Davir Hamilton will be a defensive end. He’s still learning, but he cares and he’s athletic. Maxs Tupai will be another one. We’ve trimmed him up and his focus will be at end. He’s explosive, he’s running faster right now. We’re excited about him. Filipo Mokofisi is always a guy we can trim down and play at the defensive end spot.
What’s happening with defensive tackles?
Lowell and Filipo, those guys are known commodities. We’re really excited for Howard Pututau and Leki Fotu. Alani Havili-Katoa is a guy that had some meaningful reps last year. Vaha Vainuku and Pita Tonga have some promise. Add Penisini, Vimahi and Nick Ford to the mix when they come in and you’ve got some pretty good depth on that D line. Vimahi can be an end or a tackle. We’ve got to find out where his best fit is.