SALT LAKE CITY — Brian Blechen is back. After missing the entire 2013 season with a knee injury, the senior safety is healthy once again.
“He’s 100 percent,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. “His knee is not bothering him at all and he’s good to go. Everything’s good with him.”
So good, in fact, that Whittingham is optimistic that Blechen will regain the form that led to freshman All-America honors in 2010 and honorable mention Pac-12 recognition in 2011 and 2012.
“We hope so. We need him to,” Whittingham said. “He’s a playmaker and we need him to pick up where he left off when he was playing last.”
Blechen, who has started in all 35 games he has played for the Utes, has 203 career tackles (119 unassisted) and eight interceptions. Although ticketed as the starter at strong safety, Blechen’s versatility could lead to time at free safety and linebacker as well.
“He can play a bunch of different positions on our team and he’s just a guy that we need out there. He’s a big playmaker and he’s just an instinctive player,” said defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake. “Obviously, he’s made tons of big plays and has won us games and so it will be really important for us to get him back.”
Blechen made game-saving interceptions against Pittsburgh and San Diego State earlier in his career. He’s also had several big outings in terms of forced fumbles and team-high tackles. In 2012, Blechen led the Utes with 6.44 stops per game.
The encore, though, was derailed by troublesome tendonitis. It kept Blechen sidelined for the entire campaign.
“Last year was tough,” Blechen said, noting that it was difficult getting back to form because he went more than six months without running. “I was starting to think I didn’t have it when I started trying to run again. But I’m back in shape.”
Blechen added that he had a good winter — as did the team — with conditioning. It’s evolved into a successful start to spring ball.
“It was a good first day for me and the defense,” Blechen said after Tuesday’s two-hour practice.
The session was especially meaningful to the 22-year-old from Moorpark, Calif.
“Going out today it was awesome,” Blechen said. “The last time I was on the field I was out there with a bad knee. Now I can run around, cut, guard people, take on blocks and not feel any pain in my knee.”
Not having to worry about an injury and feeling 100 percent, he continued, makes for a nice bottom line.
“It’s just good to be back out here,” Blechen said.