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Utah football: Freshman safety Williams says he’s ready if needed
Utah notes » Williams impresses coaches during camp.
First Published Aug 21 2014 07:28 pm • Last Updated Aug 21 2014 11:47 pm

Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said earlier this week that if disaster struck, and senior safeties Tevin Carter or Brian Blechen went down with injury, fellow senior Eric Rowe would be yanked back from his spot at corner to fill the void.

But that’s not an indictment of the safety backups, said their coach, Morgan Scalley, on Thursday. It’s just a feeling that the next corner — senior Wykie Freeman, at this point — is ahead of the next safety, and coaches want to get their best 11 players on the field.

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One safety who has impressed during fall camp is Marcus Williams, and he appears to have a legitimate chance to follow in the footsteps of Utes like Rowe, Blechen and Eric Weddle by playing in the back end as a true freshman.

"He’s ready," Scalley said. "He’s got to gain some more weight. That was Eric Rowe’s issue his freshman year, but he’ll get there."

Williams is a little better at tracking the ball than Rowe was as a true freshman, Scalley said, but Rowe was a more physical player. Both, Scalley said, are as competitive as all get-out.

Scalley said Williams is "football smart," and spends every possible opportunity during his downtime studying film. He asks Blechen for help in the event he doesn’t understand something.

Playing on both sides of the ball for Corona, California’s Eleanor Roosevelt High School, Williams picked off six passes in 2013, returning them 175 yards, and caught 41 from his own quarterback for 924 yards and nine scores.

Though slight, at 6-0, 179, he’s already one of the most athletic Utes, with a team-best 41-inch vertical and 10-foot, 8.5-inch broad jump during summer strength and conditioning tests. Williams said it’s a combination of natural talent and effort: He’s always wanted to be the best, and that continued when he arrived in Salt Lake City.

"I came in, worked hard all summer, and all my hard work is paying off right now," Williams said. "I feel like I got put in a good spot to come in here and play as a true freshman. I don’t have to redshirt, I can contribute to the team."

Williams’ co-backup at the free safety spot, former wide receiver Brian Allen, still needs a little more time to develop defensive instincts, Scalley said.


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"But the thing that you want is a guy that’s not soft," he said. "He doesn’t shy away from contact. His tackling technique needs to improve, but he’s willing to throw it in there."

Also, said Scalley, don’t sleep on junior strong safety Charles Henderson. We haven’t seen much of him in fall camp, but that’s because coaches have been trying to get Allen, Williams and fellow true freshman Andre Godfrey acclimated to the defense. Henderson is a proven physical presence, Scalley said, and coaches are "very confident" in him.

***

Middle of it all » Many coaches consider it the most important element of any offensive play: Every down, every snap, the center has to deliver the ball safely to the quarterback.

In spring, as Siaosi Aiono learned the position for the first time, he had four miscues in this split-second facet of the game. Too many.

He spent summer working with quaterbacks, both on traditional snaps and out of the shotgun. They tried to work at real speed as much as they could. And now in his third week of fall camp, Aiono is seeing the fruits of those labors.

"This fall camp, I haven’t had any — well, knock on wood — any problems with CQ exchanges," he said. "It kind of means a lot to me to get it as perfect as I can."

Leading up to next week’s opener against Idaho State, Aiono has been the virtually unquestioned starter at center, a position he never played before this March. Between Isaac Asiata and Junior Salt, the Utes hope that putting Aiono in the middle will pay off handsomely against some of the tougher defensive tackles in the league.

The hardest part of moving from guard was learning to snap the ball and then block a 300-pound plus man lunging in his direction. It’s a tricky balancing act.

"It’s kind of hard to have one hand on the ball," Aiono said. "You can’t put too much weight on it, or else everything gets jacked up. You gotta try to come off the ball and block somebody like that."

Against Idaho State, Aiono said he’s eager to see his first real action at the position. There’s always something to tweak, but he thinks he can handle even the team’s most important task just fine.

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