Eric Weddle explains what makes Utah football so good at developing NFL talent
The six-time Pro Bowler credited Kyle Whittingham for the work he’s done at Utah in creating pro-ready players
Former Utah star safety Eric Weddle couldn’t help but shine some positive light on his former college in the days leading up to his first Super Bowl appearance.
Weddle, who came out of retirement to play for the Los Angeles Rams during their postseason run, said the Utes program not only helped develop the player he became — the 37-year-old is a six-time Pro Bowler — but is skilled at preparing players for the pros under the leadership of 17-year head coach Kyle Whittingham.
“Utah back in the day, was a little unknown mid-major,” Weddle said Friday. “If it wasn’t for coach Whitt (Kyle Whittingham) believing in me, and having my back, really fighting for me — (then-Utes) coach (Urban) Meyer didn’t really want to give me a scholarship at the time — and coach Whitt went to bat for me and believed in me and envision me as somewhere on the defense and had a plan for me.
“The thing that people forget about Utah’s defense, we play an NFL style defense there. They teach you and it translates immediately to the league.”
At some point during the 2021 season, 17 different former University of Utah defenders played during an NFL game. That includes eight secondary players, including Weddle and his Rams teammate, fellow safety Terrell Burgess.
Weddle originally signed with Los Angeles days before their wild-card playoff matchup with Arizona, and he’s proven vital leadership for the Rams during the postseason, returning to action after retiring in 2020.
“My four years (at Utah) prepared me for not just the moment of the league, but prepared me mentally of what it’s going to be like, what is the verbiage? What are the concepts? What are your scheme? The different things you do on defense, how’s that going to look on Sundays at the next level,” Weddle said.
“At the University of Utah, that’s what we’re known for is defense and being prepared and understanding that what you learn there is going to help you at the next level.”
Weddle also elaborated on the mindset Whittingham has built into the Utah program, and how it can benefit players’ pro prospects.
“So amongst other things, obviously, the coaching, the culture there, having to work, having to compete. Nothing was given at our school, it doesn’t matter if you’re a freshman All-American, like I was my freshman year, I still had to go earn that next year, earn my starting spot,” he said.
“That’s how it is in the league, that mindset of each year, they’re trying to get younger, faster and cheaper. So if you don’t have the mindset that you’re gonna keep these young boys at bay, while also having confidence that you can still help them and teach them along the way. It’s a dog-eat-dog world. I learned that early on at the University of Utah. You’re either gonna go get it or you’re gonna get left behind.”
Weddle was on-hand recently when the Utes finished one of their program’s most successful seasons ever with a trip to the Rose Bowl in January.
“I went to their last home game, then I went to the Vegas Pac-12 championship game and then I went to the Rose Bowl,” he said. “Such a monumental moment for our program going to the Rose Bowl for the first time and being able to finally be retired and being able to support them and be around the program more and try to support those guys was really special for me.”
Weddle, who’s playing in his first Super Bowl after an illustrious career, gave out one last shoutout to Whittingham for the role he’s played in his life.
“I owe a lot to where I’m sitting here today for him and I don’t take those things for granted. I’m lucky to have learned under him, I admire him, I look up to him and definitely a guy that I value his friendship. We’re basically family,” Weddle said.
Weddle and the Rams will play the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl LVI on Sunday at 4:30 p.m. MST. The game will be televised on NBC.