It was my decision. I knew that’s where I could help the team at the time. It’s just kind of where I’ve stayed. – Chase Hansen
SALT LAKE CITY — Chase Hansen’s first and only collegiate start was memorable for a variety of reasons, both good and bad.
The redshirt freshman made a game-high 11 tackles with a forced fumble and a pass breakup in Utah’s 34-23 victory at Washington last November.
All was well … until the final play from scrimmage. That’s when Hansen suffered a lower leg injury and was sidelined for the remainder of the season. He was carted off the field at Husky Stadium that day and didn’t take the field again until Utah opened fall camp on Thursday.
“It feels amazing. I feel like I’ve been waiting a lot longer than I was supposed to,” Hansen said. “But it feels good to actually be out here again — especially since the whole time you’re hurt, you look forward to getting back out here. So it’s finally nice to be out here again.”
However, unlike last season, Hansen’s position on the field is settled. Once a highly touted quarterback, he now tops the depth chart at strong safety.
“I think you got a taste of what his capabilities are in the Washington game last year,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. “He was phenomenal in that game.”
Hansen made the position switch midway through the season.
“It was my decision,” he said. “I knew that’s where I could help the team at the time. It’s just kind of where I’ve stayed.”
Defense, he explained, is kind of his mentality, and the move has been positive.
“I love it. I think the more I get used to it, the better I get at it, and the more I’ll enjoy it,” Hansen said. “I just need more reps, more time. Other than that I love the position. I’ve always loved defense.”
Even so, there’s a learning curve. Hansen noted things like going backwards and pressing someone man-to-man.
“There were a lot of times I was confused on where to go, assignments and stuff like that because I was kind of thrown in there midseason,” Hansen said. “But, as far as physically, I felt like I could hang.”
Defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley has confidence in Hansen.
“He’s got very good football sense. But he’s just been off the field for a while,” Scalley said. “So it’s just a matter of getting him on the field, catching up to football speed, catching up to how quickly those decisions have to be made and, yeah, we’re going to make him the best we can make him.”
Scalley was pleased with the explosiveness Hansen showed on the opening day of camp. So, too, was the boss.
“He’s ready to go,” Whittingham said. “He does everything. No limitations.”
Hansen admits he’s getting there when it comes to his health. The former Lone Peak High School star, who served an LDS Church mission in Australia, said he’s fine right now but still has a lot of things to go over.
“There’s a lot I can take from quarterback and apply it to safety,” Hansen said. “But for the most part, it’s very different.” That said, however, the 23-year-old insists he loves it.
“I’m looking forward to more safety because, like I’ve said, I enjoyed it when I was there.”
As for Hansen’s future as a quarterback, Whittingham hasn’t closed the door completely. It’s still a possibility.
“We know that in an emergency situation he’s a guy that we can turn to if disaster struck,” Whittingham said. “But right now he is focused on nothing but being the best safety he can be.”
Hansen is open to doing anything the team needs. He saw action in two games at quarterback last season, playing in wins over Fresno State and Oregon. It remains to be seen if he’s used in spots on offense.
“We’ll see about that when it comes,” Hansen said. “I’ve got to figure out safety first, of course.”
Down the line there may even be another spot for Hansen. Whittingham said the 6-foot-3 sophomore has the body to eventually up his weight from 212 to 230-235 and play linebacker. It could happen, Whittingham noted, before adding that Hansen could be like former Utah standout Brian Blechen but with a bigger frame.
Such a move, though, is not imminent.
“All safety. Nothing but safety,” Whittingham said. “It was hypothetical for down the road.
EXTRA POINTS: Camp resumes Monday. … Whittingham was pleased with the first three days of practice. “It was a great start to what we need to get done,” he said, adding that they key now will be maintaining the current level of competiveness, focus and concentration. … Senior tackle J.J. Dielman has been getting reps at center and is looking very good, according to Whittingham. However, he declined to say that Dielman was the current front-runner for the position because things are still in an experimental stage as the staff seeks to put the five best offensive linemen on the field.