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Utah's secondary is happy to have Brian Blechen, their big-play guy, back on the field this week. But they were also happy to be rid of him.
Blechen, who was suspended for the first three games for breaking team rules, spent his time on the scout team doing all that he could to terrorize Utah's starters. The Utes used him mostly on the scout team offense, allowing him to go up against his usual teammates.
"He was the quarterback for us, the receiver whatever we needed him to do, he did it," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "He probably worked harder on the scout team the last three weeks than he ever would have as a defender as far as the reps he got."
While Quade Chappuis filled in for the Utes to the best of his abilities and has 13 tackles and a forced fumble to his name, Blechen will give the Utes a lift. A former quarterback turned safety, Blechen has regularly earned postseason honors thanks to his reputation for creating big plays.
In two seasons he has seven interceptions, two of which were game-saving picks. Pac-12 offenses should take note: Blechen is bored of picking on his own teammates and ready to resume his role of being a big-time player.
"I can't wait," he said. "I think I am in good shape. My back pedal is a little rusty, but I feel good as far as sprinting goes and good on the routes. It will be good to be back out there."
Driving Blechen, aside from his natural competitiveness, is a desire to make up for his absences.
Blechen signed with the Utes out of Moorpark High School in California and made an instant impact for the Utes when he intercepted a pass on the first play of overtime against Pitt to set up the winning field goal.
He has been a starter ever since and a natural leader of the defense, so being sidelined for what he admitted was a dumb decision was especially hard.
Most difficult of all was watching the Utes lose at Utah State.
"It was tough," he said. "Taking a loss like that hurts, but I was proud of the way the team responded."
Even though Blechen is slated to start, Whittingham warned that he would still have to earn the job this week in practice.
"The bottom line is you can lose your job while you are down if the other guy performs at a higher level," Whittingham said. "We'll have to see how the week plays out."
Chappuis, a former walk-on, said he'd understand if he is demoted to Blechen's backup.
"Hopefully it will make us better having him back out there," he said. "He is an exciting player who is fun to watch."
While having one of your best players suspended certainly isn't an ideal situation, Whittingham did say the silver lining was that Chappuis and the other safeties improved with the extra reps.
"Terrell Reese, Tyron Morris-Edwards, Quade, those guys have all progressed," Whittingham said. "I've been pleased with how they've all done."
However as far as they've come, they aren't quite up to Blechen's level when it comes to creating plays. Blechen seems to have a special talent for that.
"Just hustle," he said of what he can bring to the team. "The play may not always come to you, but you can go get the play." Brian Blechen file
• 6-foot-2, 218 pounds, Jr.
Hometown • Moorpark, Calif.
Of note • Starting safety since his true freshman season. ... Can also play at linebacker. ... 2010 Freshman All-American and 2011 honorable mention all-Pac-12. ... Tied for eighth in the Pac-12 in interceptions (3) and fifth in forced fumbles (3) last year. ... Finished third on the team in tackles per game (78) in 2011.