Utah’s Chase Hansen is adapting to a new position many felt was always destined to be his

Former strong safety transitioning to linebacker for 2018 season

(Chris Detrick | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Utes defensive back Chase Hansen (22) chases down North Dakota Fighting Hawks running back John Santiago (22) during the game at Rice-Eccles Stadium Thursday, August 31, 2017. Utah Utes are leading North Dakota Fighting Hawks 17-9 at halftime.

It has definitely been a minute, but Chase Hansen can still tap into the memory bank recalling those in-house visits with optimistic recruiters and conversations with friends with ease. Even eight years later.

“Everyone would say I was going to end up as a linebacker,” Hansen said.

So here he is, a soon-to-be 25-year-old senior at the University of Utah, fulfilling the forecast so many willfully shared with him during his recruiting process as a one-time star quarterback at Lone Peak High School so long ago.

The call came at the conclusion of Utah’s 2017 campaign, a season in which Hansen was — yet again — stifled by several injuries as the Utes’ starting strong safety. He missed four games due to injury a year ago, but still finished second on the team in tackles per game (6.3). Hansen said this week that it’s a call he’s anticipated coming for the last couple of years now.

“I was ready for it,” he said.

In more ways than one.

One of the Pac-12 Conference’s premier defenders when healthy, Hansen has spent plenty of time down in the box in Utah’s nickel packages as an interchangeable linebacker in recent years, which has served as a learning curve for the eventual move made official this spring. Hansen’s size and ability at 6-foot-3, 225 pounds has allowed him to be a chess piece shifted around the field by defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah's Chase Hansen watches the game from the bench as the Utah Utes host the San Jose State Spartans, NCAA football at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, Saturday September 16, 2017.

“The strong safety and ‘backers, they’ve got to be the smartest guys on the football field — he’s got it,” Scalley said. “He allows you to keep him on the field.”

For those interested in how the transition is going, well, just ask around and Utah coaches will tell you it’s already nearing its completion. Hansen was prepped for this by being his versatile self in recent years. Utah linebackers coach Justin Ena said Hansen will have no issue playing either of Utah’s linebacker positions, especially in the defensive nickel packages when the Utes face the spread-happy offenses of the Pac-12.

“It’s simple for him,” Ena said.

The sell from the Utah coaches didn’t weave around his injury-riddled past either. Comparing life at strong safety vs. linebacker isn’t exactly apples and oranges, Scalley said, but it will undoubtedly reduce the level of those high-speed “car crash” style hits Hansen’s been known to deliver on the back end.

An injury forced Hansen, who flirted with the idea of opting to declare for this year’s NFL Draft after his junior season, to miss Utah’s win over West Virginia in the Heart of Dallas Bowl last December. Asked to assess how close he is to 100 percent, Hansen laughed.

“I kind of got rid of the term ‘back to myself’ after my freshman year when I busted my leg,” he said.

Yet he holds out hope that this position change entering his last year at Utah will somehow put a slow to the mounting injuries he faces ever season, but as he explains: “I don’t think ’backers bang any less [than strong safeties].”

While coaches say they’re pleased with his weight at 225, Hansen said he’d like to get about 10 more pounds on, just to help battle the load that’s upcoming. No longer is he sprinting after deep threats — he’s going to be taking on tackles and guards at the point of attack with the sole aim of pinning him on his back every single down.

Yes, it’s early, and yes, it’s spring, but he’s still Chase Hansen.

“The things he does out here and the way he moves and his angles to the ball and how he deals with blockers, it’s all like he’s been playing the position for his whole life,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. “That’s the kind of talent he is. There’s probably literally five, six places he can play on this team and be very good.”

An indispensable asset, Utah needs Hansen fit and ready to roll when fall camp begins. That might mean holding him out of spring scrimmages here and there, Whittingham said. Hansen would understand such a move, but vows he’s still learning the intricacies of a new position.

Even though all his coaches say he’s basically already there.

CHASE HANSEN<br>Height • 6-foot-3<br>Weight • 225 pounds<br>New position • Linebacker<br>Class • Senior<br>Hometown • Highland, Utah<br>A change up • Hansen was moved from strong safety to linebacker this spring after spending the last three years in the secondary. Hansen played in eight games in 2017, missing four to injury. He was second on the team in tackles per game (6.3) and third in total tackles (51)