U secondary young and unproven

By By Mandeep Gill

By Mandeep Gill

Speed and athleticism are characteristics that have to be present with every defensive back. For most of the U football team’s secondary, potential and youth can be added to that list.

Head coach Kyle Wittingham makes no mystery out of his opinion of his defensive backfield.

“The secondary is painfully young,” he said. “It has the makings of a very good group of players, but they are very raw and need to be sorted out. There’s a lot of development that we need to do in the secondary.”

Although youth has made the learning curve a bit more taxing, the entire group of defensive backs has been performing well during preseason camp. The competition for starting jobs in the defensive backfield has not drawn many parallels other than the running back position.

“The main areas of competition have been at the tailback and at the secondary,” Whittingham said. “Those two positions are a battle for who’s going to be the guy, or guys, in the case of the secondary.”

The only returning defensive backfield starters from last year are senior free safety Steve Tate and junior cornerback Brice McCain. Both players are key veterans who will have to anchor the leadership role in the young secondary for the Utes’ defense to be successful.

Tate, one of four Ute team captains, led the team in tackles last season with 102. McCain’s production also had a significant impact as he led the team in pass breakups with five. McCain also doubles as a kick returner, giving a significant boost to the special teams.

Joining Tate and McCain as potential starters are sophomore strong safety Joe Dale, sophomore cornerback Sean Smith and nickel back R.J. Stanford. The group of newcomers’ skill set is highlighted by its imposing athleticism.

Although all of the new starters have turned heads at some point in preseason camp, it seems Sean Smith has the makings of Utah’s next star. Sporting a 6-foot-3 frame, the sophomore has the size to combat the most physical players in the country. His speed and athleticism give him the playmaking ability that was lost when Eric Weddle graduated last season. This combination could give Smith a chance to stand out during the 2007 season.

It is not clear whether any one man can fill the shoes of Eric Weddle; it is fully possible, however, that together the defensive backs can help ease the sting that losing No. 32 has left. Ute fans should all get a chance to find out when Utah takes on Oregon State and it’s pass-happy offense Aug. 30.

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