Utah Depth Chart Analysis- Defense

The Defensive depth chart is based on performance coming out of spring ball, incoming arrivals, and expectations going into fall camp.

(Fr*) Redshirt Freshman

Defensive Line

Left End

Derrick Shelby (Jr), Christian Cox (Sr), Trevor Reilly (Fr)

Tackle

Sealver Siliga (Jr), Neli A'asa (Sr)

Nose Tackle

Dave Kruger (So), James Aiono (Jr), Latu Heimuli (Fr)

Right End

Junior Tui'one (Sr), Lei Talamaivao (Jr), Joe Kruger (Fr)

The Utes are stacked on the defensive line with depth and talent all over the place. End Derrick Shelby returns from injury that cut short the end of his 2009 season. If fully healthy, Shelby should slide back into the starting spot and continue to wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks. If not, senior Christian Cox is more than capable of taking his place.

Tackle Sealver Siliga returns after an All-MWC honorable mention year in 2009 as a part-time starter. Siliga is tremendous is run support and will anchor the middle of the line. Senior Neli A'asa returns to the defensive side of the ball after spending 2008 as a tight end and 2009 on the offensive line and will back-up Siliga.

True sophomore Dave Kruger will line up at nose tackle to start after garnering freshman All-American honors last season. Younger brother of former Ute Paul Kruger and older brother of true freshman Joe, Dave has the potential to be an all conference and All-American caliber player. Pushing Kruger though will be JC transfer James Aiono. Aiono committed to play for Utah starting in 2009, but sat out the season due to academic reasons. He was the most highly regarded JC defensive line recruit in the country and JC All-American in 2008. Redshirt freshman Latu Heimuli came to the Utes as one of heir most highly regarded high school recruits ever. After a redshirt freshman season following a knee injury, he looks ready to step in and compete for playing time on the deepest defensive line in the conference.

The battle at the right defensive end spot might end up being the best during fall camp as Junior Tui'one and Lei Talamaivao have the unenviable task of replacing second round draft pick Koa Misi. Talamaivao started four games inside last year, but with the addition of Aiono and Heimuli, is a better fit outside rushing the passer. While neither is much of a speed rusher, both are more than serviceable against the pass and the run. If Talamaivao is completely healed from injury, he'll have a slight edge based on game experience.

Linebackers

Rover Linebacker

J.J. Williams (Jr), Jamel King (Jr)

Middle Linebacker

Matt Martinez (Jr) , Chaz Walker (Jr) , Boo Andersen (So)

Stud Linebacker

Chad Manis (Sr), V.J. Fehoko (Fr)

The Utes are forced to replace all three starters at linebacker including first team All- Conference Stevenson Sylvester. The loss of Nai Fotu in the spring to an ACL injury was devastating as he was the Utes' best returning linebacker.

JJ Williams started as a true freshman in 2006 before leaving for a mission. He played in a reserve role last season upon his return, but will get the nod at the rover linebacker spot. Junior Jamel King will backup Williams but will also get looks at the other linebacker spots. Expect King on the field a lot.

Former walk-on Matt Martinez emerged from spring ball as the man in the middle holding off Chaz Walker. Martinez is a very smart, instinctual player and could surprise a lot of people. Walker, like Jamel King, may not start but will see the field often.

Chad Manis, who spent much of last year as a backup quarterback after the transfer of Corbin Louks, seems finally cemented at the stud linebacker position. Manis is a great athlete and should keep the position locked down throughout fall camp. Big time recruit VJ Fehoko joins the team this fall and will immediately push for playing time. Expect sophomore Boo Anderson to make his case for the two deep as well.

Secondary

Cornerback

Brandon Burton (Jr), Conroy Black (Jr)

Cornerback

Lamar Chapman (Sr), Kamaron Yancy (Sr)

Nickel Back

Lamar Chapman (Sr), Reggie Topps (So)

Free Safety

Greg Bird (Jr), Damian Payne (Fr), Lucky Radley (Fr)

Strong Safety

Justin Taplin-Ross (Sr), Chris Washington (Fr), Bryce Bennion (So)

The biggest question mark for the Utes is in the secondary where they have to replace three starters. Junior cornerback Brandon Burton is the only returning starter and looks to build on a strong sophomore campaign highlighted by his 10 pass breakups (third in the conference).Ute fans should enjoy Burton now as a jump to the NFL is possible after this season with his size and speed. Conroy Black, arguably the fastest player on the team, will back up Burton.

Opposite Burton will be senior Lamar Chapman, who also started at nickel back last year and will do the same this year. The speedy Champan will be backed up by Kamaron Yancy and Reggie Topps, respectively.

Junior Greg Bird looks to be the leader at the free safety spot. Bird had a solid spring, but will be pushed by freshman early enrollee Damian Payne. Payne's participation in spring ball impressed the coaches and he should see the field. True freshman Lucky Radley is slotted at running back right now, but his future is most likely at safety. He'll be a big time player down the line and could make an instant impact.

Justin Taplin-Ross played in all 13 games last year, starting one, and is holding down the starting spot at strong safety. Redshirt freshman Chris Washington is coming off of injury but can play either safety spot. Sophomore Bryze Bennion will also be in the mix.

Summary:

The Utes have a lot of questions on defense with only four returning starters. There are talented players in place with game experience, but only in spot duty, meaning defensive coordinator Kilani Sitake will have his hands full trying to find the right players to fill out his starting 11.

The defensive line is going to anchor the defense as the Utes have one of the deepest, most talented lines in the conference. Putting pressure on the quarterback and getting into the backfield are going to be an early season key to help the new linebackers and defensive backs develop a sense of comfort and confidence. Avoiding injuries will also be huge as many of the current defensive linemen have been injury prone in the past.

The linebacking corp, though mostly inexperienced, may surprise a lot of people. JJ Williams is poised for an all conference type of year and true freshman VJ Fehoko is the kind of player that could be starting by the end of the season. Not spectacular by any means, this group may start slowly, but will be solid after a few games.

The secondary might cause a few headaches for the coaching staff to start the season as the Utes try to improve on their third ranked pass defense in the conference from 2009 while replacing multiple starters. The unit is very inexperience and is going to need Brandon Burton to lead them through the first few games while the new starters gain their footing. Ute fans should be somewhat worried at the outset.

Will this be a good defense? Yes. Will it be as good as last year? No. Will it win a game for the Utes? Yes. Will it lose a game for the Utes? Yes. Expect some inconsistency at the beginning of the season as the new starters get their footing, but a typical rock-solid Utah defense by the end of the year.

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