2010 Utah Preview - Defense
Utah CB Brandon Burton
Utah CB Brandon Burton
Posted May 19, 2010

CollegeFootballNews.com 2010 Preview - Utah Ute Defense

Utah Utes

Preview 2010 - Defense

- 2010 Utah Preview | 2010 Utah Offense
- 2010 Utah Defense | 2010 Utah Depth Chart
- Utah Previews  2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006

What You Need To Know: The Utah defense has grown into a perennial rock, but this season will test the coaching staff's ability to get great production with a blank canvas to work with. The front four will be terrific with a little bit of time thanks to a great rotation and at least two good options for every spot. With a line full of quick tackles of different sizes, this will be an active, dangerous group that carries the D. The secondary has to make major changes around underappreciated corner Brandon Burton, but there's speed to burn and the production will come with a little bit of time. And then there are the linebackers. The loss of Nai Fotu to a torn ACL crippled the position with a slew of misfits being thrown together with the hope for the tackles to follow. Walk-ons, players from other positions, and untested prospects will all have to come together to form a good linebacking corps. Overall the final numbers will be fine; there just aren't that many deadly offenses on the schedule, but just when you think this D will be great, it'll get its doors blown off.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Sealver Siliga, 49
Sacks: Christian Cox, 5.5
Interceptions: Lamar Chapman, 2

Star of the defense: Junior CB Brandon Burton
Player who has to step up and be a star: Junior LB Chaz Walker
Unsung star on the rise: Senior SS Justin Taplin-Ross
Best pro prospect: Burton
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Burton, 2) DT Dave Kruger, 3) CB Lamar Chapman
Strength of the defense: Corner Speed, Pass Rush
Weakness of the defense: Linebacker, Proven Safeties

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: Senior Christian Cox started off as an afterthought of an undersized tackle before blossoming into a nice reserve on the end and a starter by the end of the year. Only 6-1 and 250 pounds, he's not built like a normal defensive end but he's fantastic at getting into the backfield making 5.5 sacks and eight tackles for loss along with 31 stops. He doesn't have to be the team's top pass rusher, but he'll be one of the key parts of the line puzzle with his quickness and motor into the backfield.

Returning on the inside is junior Sealver Siliga, a 6-3, 299-pound tackle who got in better shape over the last few years, slimming down by about 30 pounds, and holding up well on the inside as the starter over the second half of last year. Active, he's the team's leading returning tackler making 49 stops with a sack and 6.5 tackles for loss. As long as he stays slim, he'll be fantastic.

6-5, 275-pound sophomore Dave Kruger is more of a 3-4 end than a tackle, and he'll start out on the inside after taking over the job on the nose midway through last year. Strong enough to hold up as an anchor, and quick enough to blow through the hole as a two-gap defender, the brother of former Utah pass rushing terror and current Baltimore Raven, Paul Kruger, made 37 tackles with 1.5 sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss.

Moving over from tackle to the outside is Lei Talamaivao, a 6-2, 270-pound junior who started the first four games of the year on the inside and ended up moving around making 20 tackles with five tackles for loss. He appeared to be on his way to a big career before suffering a broken leg two years ago, but now he's healthy, strong, and ready to be a rock against the run on the outside.

Projected Top Reserves: Junior Derrick Shelby is a starter if he's healthy. The 6-3, 255-pounder started the first ten games of last year before suffering a knee injury. While not a pass rushing force, he's extremely strong against the run making 44 tackles with three sacks and eight tackles for loss after starting out his career as a woefully undersized tackle. It might take a bit to get his burst and speed back, but he'll give it a go.

Senior Neil A'asa spent the first part of his career being tried out on the offensive line and as a big tight end, but the 6-2, 287-pounder is more natural at tackle. Very quick for his size and strong, he should be solid against the run working in a rotation with Sealver Siliga.

Pushing for time at right end is senior Junior Tui'one, a 6-4, 265-pound senior who started out his career as a tight end at Idaho before going the JUCO route to Utah. A quick inside presence who's a better fit for the outside, he made nine tackles and 1.5 sacks in his limited role last year. Now he's ready to make a bigger splash as a situational pass rusher and an occasional fill-in at tackle.

Watch Out For … a steady rotation on the end. There's talent and there are plenty of options to choose from, but the pass rush needs Shelby's knee to be healthy and could use Junior Fonova back from a foot problem. Cox and Talamaivao are fine, but they're more like smallish tackles.
Strength: Stopping the run. There had better be solid production against the run with a line full of tackles. Utah recruits to a type, and while there aren't that many monster space eaters for the middle, there are several strong bodies able to hold up against the power teams.
Weakness: Possible consistency. It'll be a shock if the starting front four is the same from one week to the next. The line will generate pressure and the production will be there, but there will be problems against the stronger running teams. Oregon tore off 217 rushing yards, Air Force ran for 254, and TCU blew up for 342 yards.
Outlook: It's Utah; the line is always going to be good. There's good size, excellent quickness, and enough depth to rotate three deep at most of the spots. This might not always be a brick wall of a front line, but it'll always be active, it'll always get into the backfield, and it'll have games when it shuts down a mediocre offense cold. There might not be a ton of star power, but it's a good line that will hold its own.
Unit Rating: 7.5


Projected Starters: Trying to take over for leading tackler Stevenson Sylvester will be J.J. Williams , a promising but undersized junior who was thrown into a starting role as a freshman and made 55 tackles before leaving on a church mission. The former walk-on isn't the greatest athlete for the hybrid position, but he's always moving, always going 100 miles per hour, and he finds ways to get around the ball. He made 20 tackles last year working behind Sylvester.

With the loss of Nai Fotu for the year with a torn ACL, junior Chaz Walker will get the first look in the middle in place of second leading tackler Mike Wright. The 5-11, 218-pounder made 12 tackles as a reserve and he needs to prove he can hold up with a full-time job. The former walk-on started out his career at safety and has been around long enough to know what he's doing, and he could end up moving to the outside along with being a part of a rotation.

Former quarterback Chad Manis has the smarts and he has the size, and now the 6-5, 235-pound senior has to prove he can play defense on the strongside. A great JUCO transfer a few years ago, he was a good dual-threat quarterback who has the athleticism to handle himself on the other side of the ball. He saw time on special teams and got a little work in on defense making four tackles with a sack and two tackles for loss.

Projected Top Reserves: If junior Matt Martinez isn't the starter in the middle, he'll be listed No. 1A on the depth chart. The 6-0, 228-pounder hasn't been able to stay healthy suffering an arm injury to go along with a knee problem, but he was able to see time in every game last year working mostly on special teams making six tackles. He's a try-hard type who doesn't have the size or the skills, but he'll be a stat-sheet filler when he gets his chance.

True freshman V.J. Fehoko was a good get from Hawaii. The state's high school player of 2009 made 86 tackles with 30.5 sacks, and now he'll bring his act to the strongside and will be turned loose as a pass rusher from the start. Always going 100 miles per hour, he's a high energy player who'll overcome early mistakes by being aggressive.

Junior Jamel King missed the entire 2008 season with a knee injury and saw limited time last year making three tackles. Very smart and very active, when healthy, he made 11 tackles as a key reserve in 2007 but is just now getting his career and his quickness back. At 6-1 and 230 pounds, he's one of the team's bigger options for the Rover job.

Watch Out For … several changes to the lineup over the entire season. Write out the depth chart in pencil; it's never going to be the same from one game to the next.
Strength: Versatility. There might not be any sure-thing starting three, and that's for good and bad. On the plus side, the backups are being considered on the same level as the starters, and all of the main options can play any position at any time. The coaching staff will spend the year playing around with the pieces of the puzzle.
Weakness: Sure-fire talent. Not only do all three starters have to be replaced, but Nai Fotu, the former defensive lineman who was going to be the anchor of the group, was lost for the year this offseason with a torn ACL. It's going to take some work to find the right combination.
Outlook: Uh oh. For a team with dreams of playing in the BCS, this could be the Achilles heel. It's a rag-tag bunch of misfits with several former walk-ons, players moved in from other positions, and untested prospects trying to replace the team's top two tacklers and a pass rusher in Kepa Gaison. The stats will be there just because they're linebackers, but it'll take a while for the impact stars to emerge.
Unit Rating: 5


Projected Starters: There will be several newcomers to the secondary mix, but the one rock should be the lone returning starter, junior Brandon Burton. The 6-0, 185-pounder has next level skills with 4.43 speed (he ran a 21.3 200-meter dash in high school), and he's a tough all-around playmaker who handles himself well against anyone's No. 1 target. He made 47 tackles with a sack and four tackles for loss with an interception and ten broken up passes.

Taking over for R.J. Sanford on the other side of Burton will be senior Lamar Chapman , a nickel back by trade with next-level speed and good tackling ability for his 5-8, 176-pound size. Working as a spot starter depending on the opponent, he made 446 tackles with a sack and four tackles for loss with two interceptions. He'll shine in the bigger role.

Joe Dale was a solid strong safety over the last few years, but senior Justin Taplin-Ross might turn out to be better. At 6-3 and 214 pounds he has excellent size and was fantastic this offseason looking the part of a big-hitting intimidator. He made 29 tackles with three broken up passes and 2.5 tackles for loss as a key reserve and a spot starter getting the call against Wyoming, and now he should be terrific.

Getting the nod at free safety will be Greg Bird, a 6-2, 213-pound junior who made two tackles. The former linebacker took off for a few years on a church mission, and now he's mature, quick, and has the athleticism to be solid in the job. He has yet to prove he can handle the full-time role, or even a backup one, and he'll be one of the team's biggest question marks.

Projected Top Reserves: Bringing speed and versatility to the secondary is Reggie Topps, a 5-11, 180-pound sophomore who tore off a 21.87 in the 100 in high school. Used in a variety of ways, he'll be a key backup corner and will see time as a nickel back when Justin Chapman works at corner. Topps made seven tackles last season.

Ready to step in and be a factor right away is true freshman Damian Payne, a 6-0, 200-pound athlete who could take over the free safety job sooner than later. With great size and tremendous quickness, he's ready to find a role now, and he looked like he belonged after coming to school early to participate in spring ball.

Senior Kameron Yancy started out his career at Cal before blossoming into a superstar JUCO player at Pierce College in Los Angeles. With excellent speed and plenty of talent, he should be a key in the corner rotation after spending last year on the special teams making three tackles.

Watch Out For … Chapman. It's his turn to shine. He was excellent as a nickel back and has been around long enough to know what he's doing as a corner. With his speed and experience, he should make teams pay for staying away from Burton.
Strength: Corner speed. Burton and Chapman can fly. Everyone says their corners can move, but the Utah corners have legitimate NFL wheels. No one's going to be able to run past the starters.
Weakness: Proven depth. The starters will end up being fine after the free safety situation is settled, but the depth is lacking. The secondary will be hoping to avoid major injuries early on while hoping to develop the backups. The rotation won't be strong early on.
Outlook: The secondary is loaded with speed and athleticism, but outside of Burton there aren't many sure-thing stars. The pass defense was excellent last year, but that's partially because the Utes didn't face anyone who could throw. Even so, finishing ninth in the nation in pass efficiency defense and 16th in yards allowed is impressive. There will be a big step taken backwards, but the production won't fall off the map. There are too many decent players with great raw skills for there to be too many big problems.
Unit Rating: 6

Special Teams

Projected Starters: There was no way anyone could replace one of the nation's best all-around kickers, Louie Sakoda, but Joe Phillips came close. The senior connected on 20-of-22 field goals and connected on a 48-yarder, but while he doesn't have a cannon for a leg, it's good enough. He's a reliable weapon who'll be the difference in at least one big game.

There was a battle for the punting job, and sophomore Sean Sellwood won out and was terrific averaging 42.9 yards per kick while putting 19 inside the 20 and forcing a whopping 30 fair catches. He'll be in the hunt for the Ray Guy award with another big season.

Lightning fast wide receiver Shaky Smithson will try to provide more even pop to the return game after averaging an excellent 24.7 yards per kickoff return and 9.5 yards per punt return. He was consistently great without breaking any truly big returns.

Watch Out For … Smithson to do more as a punt returner. Fellow receiver Griffin McNabb will get a few chances, too, but Smithson has a year of experience under his belt and should grow into an all-star.
Strength: The kicking game. There are plenty of positives around the special teams, and Utah's continues to be among the best in America. It's hard to find a young pair better than Phillips and Sellwood.
Weakness: The coverage teams. While the Utes weren't awful, they allowed 21 yards per kickoff return and 11.3 yards per punt return.
Outlook: Between Sakoda and Phillips (not counting the 1-of-4 performance from Ben Vroman last year), Utah got 42-of-46 field goals worth of production from its main kickers. Throw in the tremendous punting from Sellwood and the potentially excellent return game, and this will be a major strength once again.
Unit Rating: 8.5

- 2010 Utah Preview | 2010 Utah Offense
- 2010 Utah Defense | 2010 Utah Depth Chart
- Utah Previews  2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006