Brian Blechen admits it now: He wasn't sure what to make of Tevin Carter even three weeks ago.
"In the summertime he was rehabbing a lot, getting his ankle healthy," he said. "I didn't know what to expect. Coming into camp, he didn't know a ton of the defense yet, but he picked it up really quick which surprised me. In a good way."
Through fall camp, the safety duo has found a bit of a rhythm, and Blechen's glad to have Carter on board.
They play complimentary styles, he said. If Blechen's the unpredictable wrecking ball, Carter sweeps away whatever is able to to get out of Blechen's path. With Carter covering the secondary, Blechen's freed up to do more of what he does: Trying to get tackles in the backfield, force turnovers and generally break down offensive plays.
On an outside run, Blechen said as an example, Blechen can try to jump inside a block and force a runner down before he goes anywhere. If he misses the tackle, hopefully he'll slow down the running back enough to allow Carter to catch up.
"Tevin can save a lot of things on the field," he said. "It enables me to take more chances when I see them.
Knowing Carter has his back is a real comfort to Blechen. The former JuCo standout's physical skill set, blazing speed to match a big body, is unique in the Utah secondary.
"When you put the ball in somebody's hand, he can catch up to him," Blechen said. "He's caught Troy McCormick, he's caught Dres [Anderson]. That's huge, you know. And when he's coming downhill full speed, he's my exact same size and weight, so it's amazing to see how fast he can run but also how big and strong he is."
Secondary depth is a bit of an issue all around (see the note below as well): Kyle Whittingham said Wednesday that promising freshman Andre Godfrey is injured, but should be back in action before too long. Freshman Marcus Williams, as well as converted receiver Brian Allen and vet Charles Henderson are also in the mix.
Pick em off • Throughout camp, media observation periods have been witness to only a handful of interceptions. That was an issue last year, and Utah isn't eager to go through a season with only three picks again.
But things aren't always as they seem, Blechen said. While he acknowledged there's been less picks in fall camp than he's liked, it's a different challenge for the defense when the quarterbacks they face see the same schemes every day.
"They know where we're going to be, so when they do throw it, it's the one spot where we've got to turn completely to get to it, so we've only been getting a few chances," he said.
The emphasis, then, has been getting catches on opportunities they do get mitts on the ball. Blechen said that the Utes are getting picks on a higher percentage of those plays than they did last year, when the team had more than 30 drops on potential interceptions.
"As long as we make them when we come, I think there's going to be a lot more chances in a game than Travis [Wilson] or Kendal [Thompson] who see us every day," he said.
Cooling down • Wednesday was the final true two-a-day practice for the Utes this fall camp. Friday will be a walk-through in the afternoon, and contrary to the schedule, Thursday morning's practice will not be a scrimmage.
"We've got all the live work we're going to get with the ones," Whittingham said. "We may have a little bit of live work with the twos in the morning, but the ones have had all the live work that they're going to get before the game."
Whittingham said there hasn't been as much live work as there has been in years past. As a result, they're healthier, he said, with sophomore cornerback Reginald Porter's season-ending injury being the exception.
"It's give or take, though," Whittingham said. "In order to become good tacklers, you've gotta tackle to the ground, and we haven't done as much of that."
Plunging the depth • Whittingham said one of his primary concerns as the Utes gear up for the opener is making sure his secondary is on the same page, particularly after injuries have led coaches to rest strong safety Brian Blechen for a number of practices.
If there's a problem at safety, Whittingham said corner convert Eric Rowe is "the first guy we go to, to get the problem solved."
If Blechen and Tevin Carter stay healthy, Rowe will be a cornerback full time.
"You've gotta get your best five secondary guys on the field, in whatever combination that dictates," Whittingham said.
If there was an injury to an outside corner, Justin Thomas would move to the outside and senior Wykie Freeman would move into Thomas' nickel role.
To the left, to the left • Whittingham said that while true freshman Jackson Barton played right tackle in camp, he was a left tackle in high school, and Utah coaches feel that's where his future is.
At the moment, the clear backup at right tackle is sophomore Sam Tevi, Whittingham said.
"We're very happy with [Barton]," Whittingham said. "Bottom line, we think he's going to have a tremendous career here. It's just, we want to make sure his level of readiness is there."
Redshirt update • Whittingham said he has until Week Four to determine who will redshirt. Right now, nobody on the team is redshirting, he said, but they may end up sitting out about "a dozen guys."
HIGHLIGHT • It was a pretty ho-hum media observation period, but Devontae Booker broke up a little of the monotony with a run up the middle of the defense. The Utes aren't live tackling at the moment, but Booker's momentum indicated he was plenty prepared to put a shoulder into a safety.
STANDOUT • Give this one to Kyle Whittingham: "I applaud the scout teams, the guys who are simulating the Idaho State offense and defense. Those guys are working hard, and we couldn't do without them. So a shout-out to the scout teams for us. ... Standouts are the scout teams."
POSITION SPOTLIGHT • Filipo Mokofisi appeared to be taking a large share of reps with the ones alongside Viliseni Faounuku on Wednesday. He's in the mix with Clint Shepard and Sese Ianu to see time at defensive tackle. Related: Hunter Dimick and Jason Fanaika spent a large share of reps rushing from opposing end spots with the ones.
QUOTE OF THE DAY • Brian Blechen offered this sage appraisal of teammate Tevin Carter's beard, which is not quite as thick as Blechen's own: "It's not as broad. The surface area is not the same. But he's got that nice, like, thick genie beard. His beard looks straight from a lamp right now. It's awesome."
Kyle Goon and Matthew Piper
email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org
Twitter: @kylegoon; @matthew_piper
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