Utah’s Morgan Scalley moving forward after tumultuous summer. ‘It’s been a blessing to be back with the players.'

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utes defensive coordinator, Morgan Scalley leads his charges as the University of Utah hosts Idaho State Bengals, Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019.

The COVID-19 pandemic has guaranteed the college football world will not be normal this fall, but Friday brought with it a sense of normalcy.

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham, offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig and defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley addressed the media via Zoom Friday morning, ahead of the Utes' first fall camp practice later in the afternoon.

For Scalley, that sense of normalcy not only comes in the middle of the pandemic, but after a tumultuous summer in which his head coach-in-waiting tag was rescinded and his contract reverted to 2018 terms, specifically a one-year deal worth $525,000. Those punishments were the result of an investigation into a social media post that referenced a 2013 text message from Scalley that included racist language.

Scalley’s immediate suspension was announced on June 5, while his reinstatement was made public on July 1 in the wake of Kansas City-based Husch Blackwell’s investigation, which cost the athletic department $38,607 according to a university spokesman. Friday marked Scalley’s first public comments since July 1.

“It’s been a blessing just to be back with the players again, understanding that I’ve got a lot of work to do in terms of, again, gaining their trust back,” said Scalley, who starred on Utah’s vaunted 2004 unbeaten Fiesta Bowl winner and has been on the coaching staff since 2008. "I’ve had a lot of very open and honest conversations with our players and it’s been fantastic.

“I love my job, I love teaching and coaching. I’ve been involved, not only with the players on our team, but also doing things within the athletic department. It’s been a blessing to be back with the players that I love.”

Scalley’s love of teaching and coaching will be beneficial because his defense is going to enter the season young, if not inexperienced. The Utes are trying to replace nine starters on defense, including the entire secondary, all of whom are currently on active NFL rosters or practice squads.

Some of those holes are going to be filled easier than others. Vonte Davis and R.J. Hubert entered camp as the projected starters at the two safety spots, but Hubert has started only three games in his career and Davis none. Scalley can lean on All-Pac-12 redshirt junior Devin Lloyd at one linebacker spot, and while Kyle Whittingham has called Nephi Sewell the “odds-on favorite” to claim the other spot, this is his first time playing the position after shifting from safety.

However the cornerback and nickel back battles shake out, all three positions will be filled by first-time starters, one of which is very likely to be a true freshman, highly-touted four-star recruit Clark Phillips III.

“He’s an outstanding football coach, an outstanding person,” Whittingham said of Scalley. “We are just forging ahead, we’ve put it behind us. We’ve all learned from it, particularly Morgan, from what transpired, but like I said, we’re just going in a positive direction right now and Morgan has done a great job with how he’s handled it and the strides he’s made since the incident.”

Pre-camp depth chart offers little surprise

Utah released its initial two-deep depth chart on Friday morning, and it offered little surprise while needing to be taken with a grain of salt.

The three quarterbacks vying to replace Tyler Huntley as the starter, Drew Lisk, Jake Bentley and Cam Rising were separated by an “OR,” as were the two running backs trying to replace Zack Moss, Devin Brumfield and Jordan Wilmore.

One position of note was nickel back, where redshirt sophomore Malone Mataele was listed as the starter, with Phillips III and sophomore Aaron Lowe separated by an “OR.” Those three have zero career starts between them, while Mataele is the only one with any defensive appearances in a Utah uniform. Malone played in eight games last season, with four appearances on defense.

In total, nine true freshmen appear on Utah’s initial depth chart on defense, but none on offense.