Utah safety Cole Bishop came on strong at the end of last season.

As a true freshman in 2021, the Peachtree City, Georgia, native became a starter in the ninth game of the season against Stanford.

While Bishop established himself as a force in the Utes’ defensive backfield, he worked hard in the offseason to improve his skill set.

What aspect of his game did he focus on? 

“Definitely I need to improve on my man-coverage skills. We didn’t run a ton of man last year and previously in Utah history we’ve been known to run a lot of man,” Bishop said. “So I’ve focused a lot on that in film study, trying to make sure I know the defense as good as I can — not just my position but other positions as well.”

As far as personal goals for this season? Bishop would like to get some takeaways.

“I need some interceptions. I didn’t get any last year,” he said. “I need to get a few of those.”

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Last season, Bishop was a Pac-12 all-conference honorable-mention selection and he led all true freshmen on the team with 54 tackles (nine for loss), three sacks and five pass breakups. He also blocked a 36-yard field goal attempt against Oregon. Against Arizona, Bishop tallied a career-high three tackles for loss, the most by a Utah true freshman since 2007.

Defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley appreciates the diligence that Bishop brings to the program. 

Cole Bishop gives a hand to fellow defensive back Clark Phillips III during the first day of camp in Salt Lake City on Aug. 3, 2022. | Hunter Dyke, Utah Athletics

“Cole’s a stud. Cole’s one that makes you a better coach, right?” he said. “He’s another guy that’s a student of the game. You see him studying film all the time.”

Though he’s only a sophomore, Bishop has become one of the leaders of Utah’s secondary, along with cornerbacks Clark Phillips and JaTravis Broughton and fellow safety R.J. Hubert

“There’s a lot of guys with a lot of experience. Last year I got a good bit of experience,” Bishop said. “So I’m ready for whatever role. I got some experience last year. I’m trying to take on as much of a leadership role as I can.”

The Utes have welcomed a key newcomer in the safeties room — Illinois State transfer Clayton Isbell, who is participating in camp. 

“We’ve been in the film room together and out on the field,” Bishop said of Isbell. “We’ve been working on footwork and man-coverage stuff. Once you know the playbook, things are so much easier. I’ve just been trying to help him with that.”

What are Morgan Scalley’s early impressions of Utah’s defense?

Bishop likes what Isbell will provide the defense.

“He’s super long and he’s got experience from the FCS level,” he said. “He’s come in here and picked up the playbook fast. He’s experienced. It helps us out.”

There’s considerable experience and talent in the secondary, which figures to be one of the strengths of the Ute defense.

“I’m really excited,” Bishop said. “At corner and safety, we have a lot of players that can lock down guys pretty well. We’re going to do that as much as we can.”

Last spring, Scalley discussed Bishop’s development. 

Bishop enrolled early at Utah in January 2021 and he ended up making a big impact by the end of the season. 

“You never know how freshmen are going to come into your program and handle everything that’s new, from college classes to college curriculum and getting used to our way of doing things. He was ready to go,” Scalley said. “The one thing that limited him early on in the season was his hamstring. Otherwise, I think he would have played sooner than he did.

“Now, he’s everything you want. … You go into the safeties’ room right now and he’s watching film. He eats, sleeps and breathes football. He’s a great kid and he’s a great leader. His best days are ahead of him.”

Utah safety Cole Bishop in action against Arizona, Saturday, Nov. 13, 2021, in Tucson, Ariz. | Rick Scuteri, Associated Press