Utah football: Kalani Sitake likes way Utes' defense is developing
Even with the loss of Matt Martinez and Chaz Walker, the Utes aren't panicking over their linebacker crew's lack of experience.
Utah defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake believes his backers are showing enough potential to keep the spot a strength for the Utes, even if the guys he has under his care haven't played in many games.
Trevor Reilly, a junior who has played at defensive end and linebacker, is the most experienced returner and is slated to start at stud linebacker.
Sophomore V.J. Fehoko, who had limited backup experience as a freshman, is expected to start at middle linebacker.
The rover spot is the most undecided, with senior Dave Fagergren, junior Victor Spikes and freshman Jared Norris all battling for the starting role.
"We have a lot of young guys, but they have a lot of talent," Sitake said. "V.J. is doing a great job, and I like the way Dave Fagergren is playing."
Sitake hasn't ruled out using Reilly at defensive end again, and Brian Blechen, a guy who has been moved from safety to linebacker back to safety, could fill both roles this year too, he said.
That flexibility, plus the addition of signee Reshawn Hooker, a highly touted linebacker out of Fontana, Calif., in the fall should give the Utes enough options, Sitake said.
He doesn't expect to have his depth chart ironed out until the fall, if then.
"We can have a lot of growth between now, August and September," he said. "The guys have progressed well, and we can have a lot of flexibility with the defense. Our goal is get the best 11 on the field and compete every day."
Sitake believes one aspect that is making his defense play well is going up against Jordan Wynn, who is giving his players a more-than-adequate challenge, he said.
"People don't know how good our offense can be," he said. "We have good young guys with a lot of talent, and the way Jordan is performing as a veteran, people forget what that's like. We've been breaking in new QBs, and it's nice to have a veteran who knows how to manage the game."
Running back Kelvin York sat out Thursday's practice with a knee injury. Utah coach Kyle Whittingham hopes to have him on the field Saturday, adding that York and the rest of the backs have to improve in their blitz pickup.
Whittingham said the Utes will take about 80 snaps in Saturday's scrimmage. "It will be similar to what we saw last week but not as long," he said. "Last week we had 97 snaps, which was probably too many."
Just like last week, proven players such as defensive lineman Star Lotulelei and running back John White will be held out of the action for precautionary reasons.
P April 21, 1 p.m.
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