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Utah Football’s 2020 Defensive Depth Chart Projection

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The Utah football program will have a lot of changes on both sides of the ball heading into the 2020 season, particularly on the defensive side of the ball.

The Utes lost a lot of talented players but have reloaded through their terrific recruiting class and players waiting for their chance to shine.

On defense, Utah lost nine starters, three on the defensive line, one linebacker and five defensive backs.

Here is what Utah’s defensive depth chart might look like heading into spring football.

Defensive End

No. 1’s – Mika Tafua & Maxs Tupai

No. 2’s – Miki Suguturaga, Xavier Carlton, Van Fillinger

Mika Tafua had a tremendous sophomore season but he is only getting better. With Bradlee Anae departing, all eyes will be on Tafua to get to the quarterback. He played in all 14 games last season with 13 starts. Tafua finished the 2019 season with four fumble recoveries, including one returned for a touchdown. Look for Tafua to have a breakout season in 2020 for the Utes.

Maxs Tupai rotated with Tafua on the opposite defensive end position of Bradlee Anae last season. Tupai played in all 14 games in 2019 and had 21 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and a sack. The duo of Tupai and Tafua could create havoc on opposing offensive linemen this season.

Miki Suguturaga is a guy that Kyle Whittingham has mentioned during the season as someone who has a bright future for the Utes. He played two games this past season against Idaho State and Texas in the Alamo Bowl.

Other backups that could get some playing time is incoming freshman locals Xavier Carlton and Van Fillinger. Both were four-star prospects in high school.

Defensive Tackle

No. 1’s – Hauati Pututau & Viane Moala

No. 2’s – Pita Tonga & Fua Pututau

Hauati Pututau was a part of the rotation at defensive tackle last season, getting reps behind John Penisini and Leki Fotu. He appeared in all 14 games last season and finished with 7 tackles and three pass breakups. Pututau had one start in 2019 against Northern Illinois.

Along with Hauati Pututau, Viane Moala was in the rotation at nose guard in 2019 behind Leki Fotu and John Penisini. He played in all 14 games and ended the year with 4 tackles and a pass breakup.

Pita Tonga played in 10 games for the Utes last season and picked up four tackles and an interception.

Fua Pututau played in one game in 2019 against Idaho State. He recorded one tackle as a redshirt freshman.

Expect these four to get the bulk of the reps at the two defensive tackle positions and rotate like they did last season.

Linebacker

No. 1’s – Devin Lloyd & Sione Lund

No. 2’s – Andrew Mata’afa, Nephi Sewell, Jermy Mercier

Devin Lloyd is expected to carry a much bigger load this season at linebacker. As a sophomore, Lloyd was named All-Pac-12 Honorable Mention after leading the Utes with 91 tackles. He also was second on the team with 6.5 sacks and 11 tackles for loss. On top of that, Lloyd had a pick six against Oregon State. He is expected to be a leader and the anchor of Utah’s defense after getting an unexpected heavy load last season due to the surprising departure of Manny Bowen before fall camp. Lloyd is a special player for the Utes.

With the departure of Francis Bernard, Utah will need to rely on Stanford transfer Sione Lund. The Brighton alum worked his way up the depth chart and became the third linebacker that Utah used when they were out of the nickel package and used the 4-3. Going into the season, Lund was not in the mix but by the end of the year, he was getting quality reps. He played in 13 games on special teams and on defense in eight games. Lund got his first start against UCLA. He finished the 2019 season with six tackles.

Guys that will be looked at to increase the depth is incoming redshirt sophomore Andrew Mata’afa who played in seven games in 2019 for Utah and recorded five tackles.

Nephi Sewell will be in the mix at linebacker but also could play at safety. With how many players Utah signed at safety and the need at linebacker, Sewell could be a real option at linebacker. He played in the final three games of the season and recorded 14 tackles and a tackle for loss.

In the mix for playing time at linebacker is Jeremy Mercier who is a junior college transfer from Arizona.

Cornerback

No. 1’s – Clark Phillips III, JaTravis Broughton, Malone Mataele

No. 2’s – Bronson Boyd, Aaron Lowe, Caine Savage, LaCarea Pleasant-Johnson

Clark Phillips III is the highest rated recruit that Utah has ever signed in program history. The four-star prospect has elite speed and ability to make plays in order to have an immediate impact on a depleted secondary.

JaTravis Broughton appeared in all 14 games in 2019 for Utah and played in four games on defense. He had eight tackles on the season and collected his first career interception against Idaho State.

It’s time for Malone Mataele to shine at nickel now that Javelin Guidry had departed for the NFL. Mataele played in eight games with four appearances on defense. He recorded four tackles.

Bronson Boyd will bolster the depth at cornerback and could potentially start at the beginning of season with a strong fall camp. The former wide receiver made the switch to cornerback this past off-season. He played in all 14 games on special teams and appeared on defense against Idaho State, Oregon State and Colorado, ending the year with three tackles. What makes Boyd standout is his speed.

Aaron Lowe can play safety or corner for the Utes. My guess is that he will rotate between the two. His 6’0, 179-pound frame benefits him to play both positions.

Caine Savage is expected to join the Utes and enroll at the university shortly. The coaches have been very high on the new signee and is excited to see what he can do in spring ball.

LaCarea Pleasant-Johnson used a redshirt this past season for the Utes. His 6’0, 161-pound size will be helpful among the cornerbacks in particular the nickel spot.

Safety

No. 1’s – R.J. Hubert & Vonte Davis

No. 2’s – Aaron Lowe, Nate Ritchie, Kamo’i Latu, Ben Renfro

R.J. Hubert made a big impact on Utah’s secondary as a sophomore in 2019. He appeared in 10 games on defense, including three starts in place of Julian Blackmon. Hubert suffered an injury in the Pac-12 Championship game that caused him to miss the Alamo Bowl. The Logandale, Nevada native finished the season with 22 tackles and a forced fumble.

Vonte Davis played in all 14 games on special teams and appeared in six games on defense, finishing with 11 tackles. Davis will compete with the incoming freshman, Aaron Lowe and Nephi Sewell for the starting safety position. The only cemented starter heading into 2020 at safety is R.J. Hubert.

In the mix for the Utes to help the depth at safety is Aaron Lowe, along with three incoming freshmen Nate Ritchie, Kamo’i Latu and Ben Renfro. Renfro is already on campus and will participate in spring football.

The only thing changing on special teams for Utah is who will handle the kickoffs since Andrew Strauch has graduated. I expect that responsibility to go to Jadon Redding along with the field goal kicking duties.

The Crimson Corner podcast is the one-stop for all things University of Utah Athletics hosted by Utah insider Trevor Allen. Ute fans will find interviews with current players, coaches, and staff alongside expert analysis of every game, story and angle coming out of the University of Utah.

You can download and listen to the podcast, here.