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Intelligent and versatile, there is a reason Utah safety Terrell Burgess’ value has ‘skyrocketed’

The Utes defensive back worked his way up from seldom-used freshman to senior standout.

Utah Utes defensive back Terrell Burgess (26) and teammates hype up the crowd at the end of the third quarter against the against the Washington State Cougars at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019.
Utah Utes defensive back Terrell Burgess (26) and teammates hype up the crowd at the end of the third quarter against the against the Washington State Cougars at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019.
Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Terrell Burgess is a success story. The former University of Utah defensive back went from playing in four games and making one tackle as a freshman to a starter for the Utes as a senior. He was invited to both the Senior Bowl and the NFL Scouting Combine.

“Terrell is like the football equivalent of a Swiss Army Knife. He’s able to do so many things and play so many positions,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham, who noted that Burgess saw action at cornerback, nickel back, free safety, strong safety and on all special teams units. “So I would say that Terrell’s main thing he brings to the table is his intelligence and his versatility.”

Defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley added that Burgess, who is 6-foot and 198 pounds, can play man-to-man coverage on slot receivers and big tight ends.

“He’s shown that ability. He can play in the box and play physical football and tackle, or he can play back in the post. So his ability to play multiple positions and do multiple things is why you have seen his value skyrocket,” Scalley said. “That and he is one of the smartest football players that scouts will interview. He knows the front play. He knows the back end. He’s going to do really well interviewing and he’s just a great all-around kid.”

Burgess started all 14 games at strong safety last season. He made 81 tackles (7.5 for loss) and had two fumble recoveries to earn honorable mention All-Pac-12 recognition.

After signing with the Utes out of San Marcos High in California, Burgess played defense and was a receiver in 2016. He also returned a couple of kicks against BYU. His evolution to defensive starter included three starts over the next two seasons. The 2017 and 2018 campaigns also featured academic all-conference honors. Last December, Burgess earned his kinesiology degree.

Graduating to the next level of football has required a lot of patience. It’s been a process — and a lengthy one at that.

“I just tried to keep my head on straight, do what I could, lean on my teammates and my coaches and then by the end I just showed what I can do,” Burgess said. “I knew I could do it. I think it was a great honor to be able to get invited to the combine and the Senior Bowl. So I’m just thankful for that. I’m just excited to see what else will happen.”

Waiting for the NFL draft, scheduled for April 23-25, has been tempered by the coronavirus pandemic. Burgess said it’s a “crazy time period” and he’s just trying to stay healthy and not get sick. NFL teams aren’t flying draft prospects in and gyms are closed because of the virus. He’s trying to stay in shape by working out with his girlfriend in California.

“All I can do is FaceTime teams and we talk about football over the phone — look at white boards and do what we can,” said Burgess, who acknowledged there’s minimal contact as the draft approaches. Not much is doable — including a pro day at Utah — at this point. And that, he explained, has made him even more anxious.

“I’m just really excited to be able to go to a team and show what I can do,” Burgess said. “At this point, I’m just ready to play.”

The University of Utah opened up its fall camp Wednesday, July 31, 2019.
Utah defensive back Terrell Burgess walks off the field as the University of Utah opened up fall camp Wednesday, July 31, 2019.
Utah Athletics

Although family members are big Dallas fans and he grew up liking the Cowboys, Burgess has since switched his allegiance to the game as a whole. He said he just loves football. His preference in the draft is simply to go as high as possible and to the best situation.

“Now I’m just ready for whatever comes, whenever my name gets called I’ll embrace that,” said Burgess, who hasn’t looked at any of the mock drafts. “So I have no clue where I’m going, but I’m excited to go if that makes sense.”

Burgess acknowledged that the whole thing is both fun and nerve-wracking, and said if he ends up watching the draft on television, it’ll likely be at his mother’s house in San Diego.

As for his skillset, Burgess said he never wants to be complacent. He thinks there’s always room for improvement. His tenure with the Utes provided valuable validation in that regard.

“I think that they’ve got a great system going on there at Utah, definitely helped me in every way possible. I can’t thank the coaching staff enough for what they did for me,” said Burgess, who also expressed gratitude to the equipment staff, the training staff and everybody else. “They all worked really hard to get me where I am today and I can’t thank them enough.”

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What they’re saying about Terrell Burgess ...

NFL.COM: “Good backup who could become a starter.”

CBS SPORTS: 3rd round, 85th overall — Detroit Lions

DRAFTTEK: 5th round, 176th overall — San Francisco 49ers

SI.COM: 3rd round, 105th overall — Philadelphia Eagles