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Utah Football Starting With A Clean Slate At Safety For 2020 Season

Utah Utes defensive back R.J. Hubert (10) during a college football game between the Utah Utes and The USC Trojans on September 20, 2019, at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, CA. (Photo by Jordon Kelly/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The Utes will have many new faces on their defense this fall for the 2020 season including at safety.

Even though both starters from last season are gone, one of the few positions on defense does have some experience and played in nearly every game in 2019 as a backup.

The Crimson Corner is previewing each position group leading up to the 2020 college football season. We begin with the safeties.

Returning Experience

The only safety from last season that played significant time that is returning this season is incoming junior R.J. Hubert. The Logandale, Nevada native played in 13 games on special teams and appeared in 10 games on defense. He started against Idaho State, Washington State and Washington when Julian Blackmon was out or Utah used three safeties.

Unfortunately, Hubert suffered a season-ending injury in the Pac-12 Championship game against Oregon shortly after Blackmon exited with his season-ending injury.

Entering the 2020 season, Hubert was not expected to participate in spring ball but since the Utes only had 3 practices before the shutdown of spring football due to the pandemic, it didn’t have any impact on Hubert.

Fall camp will be critical for Hubert to get in sync with his backfield mate. Expect Hubert to have a positive impact on and off the field for the Utes this season.

Incoming senior Vonte Davis played in all 14 games on special teams and appeared in six games on defense last season for the Utes. He appeared in games as a backup to Hubert, Blackmon and Burgess. If Utah is going for experienced veterans to patrol the defensive backfield, Davis is a go-to guy for that spot. He has shown signs of being a good safety, like most safeties to come out of the University of Utah.

Sophomore defensive back Aaron Lowe will be a player that Utah could turn to and expect to contribute at safety. Although, Lowe is a versatile defensive back that will likely play both cornerback and safety in games. Lowe played 11 games on special teams last season. Sophomore Alphonso Taylor, junior Stone Azarcon and redshirt freshman Jordan Anderson will be in the mix for reps this season.

Big Shoes To Fill

Utah’s safety duo in 2019 with Julian Blackmon and Terrell Burgess was one of the best in the Pac-12. Blackmon finished his senior campaign as an All-American and a three-time All-Pac-12 selection. He was taken in the third round of the NFL Draft by the Indianapolis Colts.

In just one season as the full-time starter, Burgess quickly caught the attention of Utah fans and the nation. He was named Pac-12 Honorable Mention. After working his tail off for four years at Utah, it paid off in 2019 and he was rewarded in 2020 when the Los Angeles Rams selected him in the third round of the NFL Draft.

Newcomers

Utah signed three recruits in the 2020 signing class to come in and help bolster the depth at safety. Ben Renfro was a three-star wide receiver and is now moving over to safety in college after prepping in Magnolia, Texas. Renfro has already enrolled and completed the spring semester at Utah. Defensive coordinator and safeties coach Morgan Scalley is impressed with the athleticism and ability that Renfro brings to Salt Lake City. I expect him to be in the mix for a starting spot at safety.

Local in-state recruit Nate Ritchie joins the Utes after have a successful high school career at Lone Peak. As a four-star recruit, according to 247 Sports, Ritchie was the 4th highest rated prospect in the state. While at Lone Peak, Ritchie was a player that was used all over the field. He has great football IQ and is a player who could play right away if needed. Ritchie has not enrolled at Utah yet but is expected to in the fall in time for training camp. His film shows great awareness on the field whether it’s in the open field or near the sidelines.

Three-star safety Kamo’i Latu will be a Ute this fall when he enrolls at the university. Latu is a three-star recruit from St. Louis High School in Honolulu, Hawai’i. At 6’1 and 190-pounds, Latu shows the ability to be a tough and physical safety. His film shows great speed in the open field along with great hands to haul in interceptions.

Starter Predictions

The obvious choice to start at one of the safety positions and likely at strong safety is R.J. Hubert. As long as his recovery is on schedule, I think he will be a starter for the Utes. Alongside Hubert, I expect Vonte Davis to take the free safety position but his spot is more up in the air. Ben Renfro has been talked highly of by Scalley and other coaches as well as Nate Ritchie.

My prediction is that Hubert and Davis are day one starters with Renfro and Ritchie as backups with Azarcon, Taylor and Latu on their heels.

Trevor Allen is a Utah Utes Insider for KSLSports.com and host of the Crimson Corner podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @TrevorASportsYou can download and listen to the podcast, here.

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