OC'S CORNER

O’Connell: Utah College Football Preseason All-State Team – Defense

Jul 23, 2019, 1:13 PM
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)...
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – My Preseason All-College-All-State Offensive Team was fairly difficult for me to narrow down. But the defense… yikes.

Lots of defensive talent in our great state heading into 2019. I am sure there will be no disagreement at all on my preseason picks.

Also, please note that this All-State Defense will be running a base 4-2-5. Just what you have to do against modern offenses in college football. Here goes…

CB – Jaylon Johnson, Utah – The next in a proud lineage of long-armed Utah DB’s who will be playing on Sundays. I don’t expect Johnson’s stats to be huge this year, because even in the Pac-12, most teams will shy away from throwing to his side. Maybe the best overall player in the state of Utah this year.

CB – Javelin Guidry, Utah – Truly one of the fastest men in all of college football. Elite straight-line speed and the hips and quickness necessary to make him invaluable as a Nickelback. Also a willing and active tackler for someone only listed at 5’9” and under 200 lbs.

CB – Dayan Ghanwoloku, BYU – Huge challenges loom in the first four games for the versatile senior, but Ghanwoloku has the physical tools to stack up if he can maintain disciplined eyes and feet.  He’s played all over the BYU defensive backfield, but a settled spot at corner has allowed him to refine his craft at he spot where he’s made the biggest plays in his career.

S – Julian Blackmon, Utah – Yes, the move is still unproven, but Kyle Whittingham has a long track-record of helping players find the right spot in his defense, and Morgan Scalley takes “Safety Pride” very seriously. Blackmon’s All-Conference resume as a corner combined with rave reviews from his coaches lead me to believe that Blackmon is going to be just fine at the safety spot.

S – Troy Warner, BYU – Terrell Burgess of Utah gets serious consideration in this spot, but Warner has been more productive overall. The brother of current 49er LB and BYU great Fred needs to make his presence felt more when the ball is in the air, something he’ll have plenty of opportunity to do given the difficulties BYU opponents will have running against this year’s defensive front.

LB – David Woodward, Utah State – The Aggies have had quite a run of linebackers in the recent years, and by the end of this season we might be adding “Woodward” to the conversation alongside names like Wagner, Vigil, and Fackrell. Woodward would be a day one starter for almost any school in the country.  He’s got a great nose for the football, ball skills in pass coverage, and a knack for operating in traffic at or behind the line of scrimmage for impact plays.

LB – Manny Bowen, Utah – I know, I know… The smart thing to do is play ‘wait-and-see’ with a guy who has yet to take a real snap in a Utah uniform. But go watch the tape. Not high school tape. Big boy, Big-Ten, top-ten team in the country game film. The dude can play, and he’s shown it over the course of several seasons at a perennial college football blue-blood known for producing top linebackers. He could be another Gionni Paul type. And he’ll actually be playing behind a better D-line this year than he ever had at Penn State, which is really saying something.

DE – Tipa Galeai, Utah State – I am excited to see the different ways Gary Andersen uses Galeai in his defense. Tipa is a disruptive force at the line of scrimmage, despite being undersized. Gary has a demonstrated track-record of success with “tweeners” in that edge/LB role. Even if his duties don’t change much from last year, Galeai will be a problem for opposing offenses, no reason not to think he’ll better his double-digit sack total from 2018.

DT – Leki Fotu, Utah –  The stat-sheet will never properly reflect the ways in which guys like Fotu affect the game, but even the novice eye can see that Fotu is a force of nature in the middle of a Utah’s defensive front. His inhuman size and strength are easy to be impressed by, but what makes him elite is the ability to move his bulk. Working now under former Utah captain and longtime NFL standout Sione Pouha will only improve his overall understanding of the nuances he’ll need to master if he wants live up to the hype and make him an NFL stalwart.

DT – Khyiris Tonga, BYU – You can plug a lot of the same things I said about Leki Fotu right here and they would still be true. In fact, had it not been for Tonga flipping his commitment to follow Kalani Sitake to BYU, these two behemoths could feasibly have played alongside one another. Expect Tonga to come in a little bit leaner this year, which should make him even harder to deal with for the constant double-teams he’ll undoubtedly face. Khyiris Tonga is the force inside that will keep BYU’s intriguing linebacking corps clean and let them work. You’ll hear names like Anderson and Kaufusi credited with tackles more often, but their success is partially owed to Tonga gobbling up blocks.

DE – Bradlee Anae, Utah – Here’s a scary thought. Bradlee Anae led the Pac-12 in sacks last year and was named first-team all-conference, but he actually hasn’t had his true “breakout” year yet. Talent like his can create lofty, even unrealistic expectations. Still, I promise Anae is capable of more than we’ve seen, and we’ve seen plenty. He is capable of Nate Orchard sack numbers, and will likely benefit from the interior push of Fotu, Penisini and capable rush partners on the other side in Mika Tafua and Maxs Tupai. All-American status is within reach for Anae, but I’m sure he’ll be most excited about being named to my preseason All-State team…

Punter – Ben Lennon, Utah – This is 100 percent based on the expectation created by other Pro-Kick-Australia alumni. The Utes have had a great thing going, don’t screw it up Ben!

Return specialist – Rashid Shaheed, Weber State – Sure, Scarver at USU and Covey at Utah could easily slide into this spot, but neither of those guys is a two time All-American like Shaheed. We can debate all day about the talent he faces, but the fact that Shaheed has housed FOUR kickoff returns while averaging better than 30 yards per return is an undeniable testament to his vision and talent in the return game. He could suit up for any of the FBS schools in the state and make immediate impact fielding kicks.

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