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Morgan Scalley wants to change the notion, the presumption that defensive players are a bunch of dumb, dimwitted Cro-Magnon men who do their business by grunting and reactively swinging their clubs, then grunting again as they lean them up against the cave wall as they come off the field.

That's not the way he played football, back when the Utes were winning Fiesta Bowls, and it's not the way he, as Utah's freshly promoted defensive coordinator, wants his guys to play now. He's not pumping slop into the trough as the beasts feed, he's not encouraging his players to burp and belch and beat people up, he's not motivating them to mindlessly pulverize opponents, as though they are tenderizing slabs of beef on the hook.

He's instructing them, rather professorially, to use their heads as more than hammers, use their brains as more than battering rams.

In his case, it goes beyond safety issues, although those are important, extending to putting up effective, efficient intelligent resistance.

"I want them to be smarter, schematically and situationally," he said at the start of the Utes' spring practices. "The smarter you are on defense, the more you understand situations, the more you communicate, the more you put yourself in good positions, the more you can focus on forcing turnovers and playing relentless defense. We haven't been as good at that over the past year or two — swarming to the football and having a nasty attitude. We want to be smart, run and strike and not cower away. No excuses, just find a way to get it done."

In other words, Scalley wants his defenders to be astute, erudite Cro-Magnons.

He wants them to follow his example in that regard. Scalley was an academic All-American while captaining Urban Meyer's defense, quarterbacking the outfit on the field from his safety position.

Back then, he studied defensive football enough to know where each of his teammates was supposed to be on every play — and he could recognize that from his place in the back.

It's not quantum physics, Scalley said. It's a matter of understanding an opponent's tendencies and putting yourself in position to make the right play at the right time.

"Last year, against Michigan," he said, " we were anticipating those guys to try to move the sticks on third-and-medium. We talked about that. So, on one third-and-medium, Cory Butler-Byrd backpedaled and the receiver picked up the four yards needed for a first. On another third-and-medium, Justin Thomas didn't backpedal, like we had said, and he got an interception that changed the game. You have to be dialed into a team's tendencies."

Scalley is often asked if his version of the now well-planted Whittingham defense — which is as much the design of Fred, Sr., as it is Kyle — will stress aggression.

"Aggression can be done either by scheme or by style," he said. "Aggression by scheme depends on your personnel. But if you can pressure the quarterback with four guys, you may not be aggressive by scheme. I'd rather be nasty by style — strip the ball, swarm to the ball — than aggressive by scheme."

The priorities of Scalley's scheme will be instantly recognizable by anyone with eyes to see — stop the run, let the speed in the back take over from there. The Utes know they have to pressure the quarterback, what with their corners manning up in the secondary. "We know we have to get to the quarterback," he said. "You can't cover for five seconds. That will be an emphasis."

Kylie Fitts will play a large role in that emphasis, as will Pita Taumoepenu.

The biggest challenge — "a glaring obstacle," as Scalley put it — in the spring will be initiating the replacement of linebackers Gionni Paul, Jared Norris and Jason Whittingham. "We'll have a great defensive line," he said. "We just need a couple of linebackers to step up."

He mentioned Cody Barton, Sunia Tauteoli, Jake Jackson, Evan Eggiman, among others: "These kids will have to show what they can do. We're lacking at depth."

As for what the signature of his defense will be, Scalley laughed and shrugged. "It's not about Morgan Scalley," he said. "It's about the players. It's a players-first program. You want to hold them to a tough standard, but if they think you don't care about them, they won't play for you. I think they know I care, but the second I start thinking I'm something special, then … I'm dumb."

Scalley wants nobody on the defense, including himself, to be that.

GORDON MONSON hosts "The Big Show" with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.

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