Utah’s football program may never have another linebacking tandem as productive as Cody Barton and Chase Hansen. But the Utes hoped their performances will inspire their replacements, and there’s evidence of that happening.

Devin Lloyd became Utah’s most improved defensive player in spring practice, defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley said. Coming into his sophomore season, Lloyd has made it apparent that senior Francis Bernard will have to earn a starting job in August, after missing spring practice due to injury.

Scalley credits the examples of last year’s linebackers for prodding Lloyd.

“That’s him getting in the film room, and him learning from Cody Barton and Chase Hansen,” Scalley said after the Utes concluded spring practice in mid-April. “Here’s a guy who took their leadership and just decided to do what they did, and it’s showing on the football field. He’s always been a long-levered, athletic kid … now, he’s coming into his own, he’s feeling more confident with his weight, more confident with the scheme, and it’s showing in his productivity.”

2019 UTE DEFENSE
Starters lost
Marquise Blair, SS – Second-round pick, Seattle.
Cody Barton, LB – Third-round pick, Seattle.
Chase Hansen, LB – Free agent, New Orleans.
Corrion Ballard, FS – Free agent, Carolina.
Top returnees
Bradlee Anae, DE – All-Pac-12 first team.
Leki Fotu, DT – All-Pac-12 first team.
Jaylon Johnson, CB – All-Pac-12 first team.
Julian Blackmon, FS – All-Pac-12 second team (cornerback).
Javelin Guidry, CB – All-Pac-12 honorable mention.

Lloyd played mostly on special teams as a redshirt freshman, although he made four tackles in a game at Colorado after Hansen was ejected for targeting in the first quarter. Bernard was highly productive in that game, making 10 tackles (including three for losses). And when Hansen missed the Holiday Bowl with a hip injury that he sustained in the Pac-12 championship game, Bernard made six tackles and deflected two passes vs. Northwestern.

So between Bernard and Lloyd, Utah should be well staffed at the rover position. Manny Bowen filled the other linebacker spot in the spring as a graduate transfer from Penn State. Coaches regularly praised Bowen’s attitude and performance, and expect a lot from him.

Barton and Hansen set a high standard for the position, though. The recent NFL draft was validating for Utah, but also frightening. Barton's becoming a third-round pick of the Seattle Seahawks completed his remarkable rise in the program, while also illustrating that the Utes have lost a very good player. The same is true of Hansen, although questions about his health kept him from being drafted. He signed with the New Orleans Saints as a free agent.

Seattle’s pick of safety Marquise Blair in the second round suggested that he, too, will be more difficult to replace than observers may have believed. Terrell Burgess will move into Blair’s strong safety position, while converted cornerback Julian Blackmon will replace Corrion Ballard, a free-agent signee (Carolina), at free safety. Blackmon has adapted well to his new position.

Jaylon Johnson is a potential 2020 first-round pick at cornerback. The other corner spot will go to Tareke Lewis or Josh Nurse. Lewis lost some ground in the middle of spring practice, due to injury, but appeared to regain the job in the end. Javelin Guidry is basically an every-down player as a slot corner in Utah’s scheme.

Up front, Utah’s defense is loaded. The line features “three NFL guys, at least,” coach Kyle Whittingham said. Bradlee Anae and Leki Fotu chose to stay in school as seniors. They’re dynamic players, and tackle John Penisini is highly graded by the Pro Football Focus film evaluators. The fourth spot will be contested between ends Mika Tafua and Maxs Tupai; each will play a lot in the defensive line rotation.