Just two days ago, Marcus Sanders-Williams’ main focus was to hold onto the football and break tackles.
On Thursday, he was one of the guys trying to make them.
“I was a contact player on offense,” he said. “I’m going to be a contact player on defense. I get to go against the offense and stuff, so I’ll still hit those guys.”
The sophomore running back has turned into a linebacker, bolstering what has become a precariously thin position for the Utes this spring. Coach Kyle Whittingham announced Thursday that linebacker Gionni Paul suffered a foot fracture in Tuesday’s practice that required surgery and will put him on the shelf for the rest of spring.
Whittingham said Paul was in surgery on Thursday afternoon, and the coaching staff was awaiting a more firm prognosis for how long he’ll take to get back to full strength.
With Paul added to Jason Whittingham and Jacoby Hale already sitting out the spring with injuries, it leaves the Utes with four scholarship players at linebacker. Hence the move with Sanders-Williams.
“We moved him today, and we’ll see how he look these last four or five spring practices,” Whittingham said. “He’s got the physical tools to become a linebacker, he just doesn’t have the experience there. He’s 220-plus pounds and about 6 feet tall so we’re hoping he can pick up some of the slack.”
The personnel shift isn’t necessarily a representation of Sanders-Williams’ reps at linebacker. In the spring scrimmage, he gained 73 yards and scored a touchdown, and he’s had his moments in practice.
But the running backs are plentiful — Sanders-Williams isn’t on the three-deep — and not every running back is 225 pounds.
At Durango High in Las Vegas, Sanders-Williams was a two-way player. As one of the better athletes on the team, the Utes are counting on him to pick up the defense quickly to help add depth at the spot.
In the two deep, the Utes also have Jared Norris, Uaea Masina and Tanner Larsen. Safety Brian Blechen can also move into the position if need be. Sanders-Williams hopes it won’t have to come to that.
“I’m just getting used to the defense, trying to learn the defense and try to do my thing out here,” he said. “They feel like I can do the job, they feel like I can contribute. I work hard, I’m going to run to the ball.”