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Utah football: Utes’ secondary feeling the loss of Porter (video)

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Eric Rowe, September 4, 2011, in Salt Lake City Utah. Photo by Tom Smart/University of Utah Sports Information

By Matthew Piper

The Salt Lake Tribune

First published Aug 14 2014 03:41PM
Updated Aug 17, 2014 04:08PM

It saddens Sharrieff Shah just to talk about it.

Sophomore cornerback Reginald Porter has loving teammates and family to support him, but "a season-ending injury to an athlete at this level is absolutely emotionally crushing," said his position coach after practice Thursday.

And while Shah’s secondary still includes seniors Eric Rowe and Davion Orphey, and sophomore Justin Thomas, the loss of Porter to a knee injury in Tuesday’s scrimmage leaves Utah scrambling to add depth without one of its best players in coverage.

"Reggie was on the brink of being, I think, outstanding," Shah said. "The rotation, if we played tomorrow, would’ve been Eric, Davion and Reggie."

Orphey said Porter seemed down after the injury, so he shook Porter’s hand and told him that he may not suit up this year, but Orphey will still depend upon him for tips about footwork.

The onus, more than ever, is now on Orphey and Rowe to help guide other less-experienced players who soon will be thrust into the two-deep.

"It started today," Orphey said. "A lot of plays were being made on them. I just told them after practice, ‘You can’t be like that, man. I had a lot of plays made on me yesterday by Kenneth Scott. I put my head down and all that did was allow him to make more plays.’"

In Rowe, who made the switch from safety this spring, Shah may have an inexperienced cornerback, but he has an experienced leader. That showed on the sideline as the offense exploited Utah’s secondary in the past two practices. Shah said Rowe told his teammates, "‘It’s alright, it’s OK, so what? Let’s keep playing. Short-term memory. DBs get amnesia. Let’s go. Let’s find the next play.’"

And Rowe has no sense of entitlement, Shah said. He’s improving on a daily basis, and even after proving himself for three years, he keeps asking what he can do to get better.

"We’ve got a kid who is a phenomenal athlete, unbelievably intelligent," Shah said. "He has desire more than anybody else. He’s a leader. So, I have good clay to mold."

But Utah faces a returning starting quarterback in all but two games — against Arizona and Fresno State — and an injury to safeties Tevin Carter and Brian Blechen could conceivably press Rowe back into his old role.

So Shah needs more clay.

Wideout Dominique Hatfield was recruited by Shah as a cornerback and a receiver at Crenshaw High in Los Angeles, and offensive coaches won the war room fight for his services at the U. Since Porter’s injury, though, he’s played on both sides of the ball.

Shah said Hatfield’s a natural defender because of his background — and not just on the field, where he had eight interceptions as a high school senior.

"He comes from the same neighborhood I come from." Shah said. "Kids that come out of that neighborhood have a tendency of being real tough, because you deal with a lot of issues that most people don’t ever see. I love what he had to overcome in order to get here, and I know that he brought an intangible with him."

Asked if Hatfield can be a short-term solution, Orphey goes as far to say Hatfield might play cornerback in Utah’s season opener against Idaho State in two weeks.

"He’s just a corner at heart," Orphey said. "He can naturally do it. It’s God-given talent."

Brian Allen’s move to cornerback, however, appears to have been temporary. The former wide receiver was back at safety Thursday.

And while Utah’s three freshman cornerbacks — Casey Hughes, Boobie Hobbs and Monte Seabrook (who asked to play corner after initially being listed as a safety) — have shown promise, none would be ready to play if there was a game tomorrow, Shah said.

Tomorrow, instead, are another two practices, and Shah’s group will try to stop the bleeding against Scott and 1,000-yard wideout Dres Anderson, who torched Utah’s defensive backfield Thursday morning.

A trial by fire is just what they need, Shah said.

"I tell them every day, every play you get beat now is one that you save in the game."

mpiper@sltrib.com

Twitter: @matthew_piper

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