SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Sports) – After giving up the fewest amount of points in the Pac-12 last year at 20.4 points per game, the Utes did lose some key contributors. Defensive back Clark Phillips, linebacker Mo Diabate, safety R.J. Hubert and defensive lineman Gabe Reid are all gone, but there are still plenty of playmakers back.
“We kind of have an idea of what the depth looks like,” said defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley. “In these first few weeks, we’re going to go ahead and have some great competition because of the depth that we have.”
Starting on the defensive line, Van Fillinger and Junior Tafuna are back, and along with Jonah Elliss and Simote Pepa, it looks like Sack Lake City isn’t going anywhere.
“Training in the off-season with the boys, we’ve gained a lot of confidence,” said Tafuna, a preseason All-Pac-12 performer. “We have more tools in the pack to throw out, so it should be fun this year.”
The Utes have two stars at linebacker in preseason All-Pac-12 performer Karene Reid and sophomore sensation Lander Barton.
“Barton is going to be even more impactful than he was last year,” said head coach Kyle Whittingham. “He’s maybe 20 pounds heavier and hasn’t lost a step. He’s big, he’s physical, tough, smart, and we expect he’s going to be a very good player for us.”
While Phillips, who was a fourth round draft pick by the Atlanta Falcons, is a huge loss at cornerback, JT Broughton and Zemaiah Vaughn return, while Ole Miss transfer Miles Battle brings big-time experience to the group.
“He has athleticism, play-making ability,” said Scalley. “I think you saw that in the spring game, and he has the speed and the athleticism to do it out there on the island. He’s a great kid.”
At safety, former Lone Peak star Nate Ritchie is back from a two-year LDS Mission, where he will team with Sione Vaki and Cole Bishop, who is getting a ton of preseason accolades.
“I don’t really pay attention to it,” Bishop said. “Preseason ranking don’t really mean anything. I could go out and suck and that wouldn’t matter, or I could play really good and that still wouldn’t matter. So at the beginning of the day, it’s still about the postseason stuff.”
It looks like the Utes defense will be tough to score on once again. The season opener is August 31st against Florida.