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Snatching a Brandon Cox pass out of the air on Wednesday morning, Marcus Williams crowed at the offensive sideline. The trash talk they fired back glanced off of him like paper planes.
"I got the ball, don't I?" he said, laughing.
The slender junior safety isn't much for media interviews, but he's one of the Utah defense's most valuable presences on the field. And others are happy to speak up for him.
"Marcus is a guy when you're watching film, you watch him," sophomore safety Chase Hansen said. "You want to do something right technique-wise, how to break on the ball, where to be positioned, you watch him. He knows Xs and Os."
It so happens the Utes are uniquely positioned where one of their least experienced starters can learn from one of their stars on defense. As Williams returns fresh from his all Pac-12 campaign in 2015 with a team-best five interceptions last year, Hansen is ironing out how to play the opposing safety spot.
Luckily for Utah, he can take cues from the best.
"As it is with any safety group, you've got to be able to play together work on communication," defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley said. "We couldn't do it in spring ball because Chase wasn't ready to go. But we're working on that now."
Coaches said they've been impressed with Williams' development, particularly gaining weight, which has been difficult throughout his career. He's also arrived at a strong understanding of Utah's scheme, positioning himself where he needs to be to make picks like the one he did in Wednesday's practice.
"We're big playmakers on the defensive side," Williams said. "When they put the ball in the air, we're trying to take it away."
If Williams is a lock at free safety, Hansen is still a bit of a question mark. Coming off a season-ending ankle injury on the last play of his first start against Washington last year, Hansen missed all of spring recovering. He acknowledges he's still grasping concepts in the playbook.
Another obstacle: frustration. His last year feels like a rerun, after working to get in shape off his mission, now he's had to get in shape after his injury.
"I felt like I was peaking with that Washington game, and I felt like I was really getting it," he said. "I try not to think about it, but sometimes I think 'Where would I be if I didn't get hurt?' I try not to let myself get there. I just try to think about where I'm at right now and trying to get better."
Hansen is still being pushed by veterans Andre Godfrey and Jason Thompson, which is consistently at the forefront of his mind. Scalley said the former quarterback needs reps his 6-foot-3, 216-pound body has plenty of athletic ability, he needs to learn how to properly harness it.
Williams is helping him show the way.
"Everybody is fired up and ready to go, we're making sure that everybody knows what to do," he said. "All of the safeties, we've got to make sure we're all connected."
The Utes return one all-conference safety in Marcus Williams, and are hoping that Chase Hansen can rise to the demands of the position:
Marcus Williams, jr., FS
• Led the Utes with five interceptions last season, third in tackles (66)
• Voted all-Pac-12 first team
• Boasts 38-inch vertical jump, tied for best on the team
Chase Hansen, soph., SS
• Had 17 tackles in nine games with one start
• Coming off a season-ending ankle injury in 2015
• Quarterback and safety for 5A state champion Lone Peak High School