There was just a chuckle from Chase Hansen.
Maybe because it’s true, that he just is stuck in an ongoing string of bad luck, but one he doesn’t want to give a single ounce of credence to. Or maybe because he’s tired of hearing the same question again and again.
How you feeling?
How you feeling, physically?
Are you ready?
Think you’ll be out there next week?
Find a way to pry, and Utah’s indispensable junior strong safety, the quarterback of this defense, has heard it. Which is not how he envisioned this year going. Not him, not Utah coach Kyle Whittingham, not defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley and not the Utah fan base, which knows how important Hansen’s health is to winning games.
Hansen missed his second game of the season last Saturday in Utah’s 30-10 home loss to Arizona State, dealing with an unspecified injury. He missed Utah’s win over San Jose State due to a different injury, and he missed all of fall camp with another ailment. Some big hits eventually sidelined him for the end of the game at USC two weeks ago.
“You only get 12 shots at this,” Hansen said. “Every game you miss, it’s heart-wrenching, especially just sitting there on the sidelines. It’s one thing if you’re at home watching it on the couch or whatever, but to be there on the sidelines, and you can’t really contribute, it sucks.”
Bring up replacing Hansen to Whittingham, and Utah’s coach only can chuckle, too. He chuckles because he knows Hansen’s intangibles — the swift tackles, the interceptions, the forced fumbles, the steadiness all over the field — are irreplaceable.
“He’s one of the best safeties in the country, when he’s healthy, when he’s right,” Whittingham said. “We do have better depth than we’ve had in years past [at safety]. There’s still guys you’re going to miss regardless.”
Hansen is one of those guys.
“Chase is definitely someone that is hard to replace,” defensive back Julian Blackmon said, “just because he’s super intelligent, he’s very good at knowing where to be and how to be in places at the right time.”
ABOUT CHASE HANSEN
Height • 6 foot 2
Weight • 220 pounds
Position • Strong safety
Class • Junior
Age • 24
Hometown • Highland
Injury-filled season • Utah star defensive back has missed two games (San Jose State, Arizona State) due to injuries. Despite those absences, he still ranks fourth overall in total tackles in 2017. Hansen led Utah in tackles (90), started all 13 games and was an All-Pac-12 honorable mention a year ago.
At the conclusion of fall camp, Hansen reflected on the difficulties of staying healthy, of how the particular brand of violence he plays with at that strong safety position perhaps could play a role. But he won’t change how he plays. He can’t. Tweak a few things here and there, maybe.
“I feel like the times I have been able to play, I’ve felt good about it,” he said. “Just that’s part of the game. I accepted that a long time ago. When something happens, I just try and find some good in it, learn from whatever and mentally improve.”
Despite missing two game to injury, Hansen remains ranked fourth on the team in total tackles in 2017, a year after finishing as Utah’s leading tackler (90), passes defended (12) and pass breakups (nine). Hansen started all 13 games a year ago, earning honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors. His versatility on defense has allowed the staff to mix and match pieces to its liking.
Injuries, however, have hindered plenty.
“He keeps bouncing back,” Whittingham said. “I’m sure it’s very frustrating for him. It’s frustrating for us. But it’s not his fault. Hopefully it’s just a string of bad luck, and he can get healthy sometime soon and remain healthy the rest of the year.”
Hansen has been featured, at times, at linebacker against run-heavy teams. He’s always at home in the box, crowding the line of scrimmage or even blitzing off the edge. Life at safety takes more prep and perfecting, where he said he’s still learning about positioning, loosening up his hips in pass coverage and his pedaling work.
“I want to be that guy that can play all over the field,” Hansen said, “so it’s just something I’ve worked on.”
Per Hansen standards, the 6-foot-3, 220-pounder was all smiles after a day of practice this week. He fended off teammates who crowded nearby, trying to make him laugh during an interview. He said he feels no pressure, that with just five games left on the calendar, the Utes have to reverse course on this three-game skid.
So how’s Chase Hansen feeling this week?
Ask him, and he’ll offer up a chuckle.
Utah at Oregon
Saturday, 3:45 p.m. MDT
TV • Pac-12 Network