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Brian Allen has never played safety before this summer. Brian Allen never played corner before this week.
Brian Allen, a 6-foot-3, 200-pound Texas native, hadn't played defense at all before the Utes elected to move him from wide receiver. But here's what they saw: A long, fast athlete who was buried behind other talented offensive players. They saw a receiver who didn't mind contact, and looked like he could handle more of it.
"You can ask anybody: I'm very physical," Allen said. "I like to get physical."
But for all of Allen's gifts length, speed, physicality it's a long way to being a starting defensive back. He knows how far he has still to come before he's ready for the rigors of Pac-12 play.
For example, one of his toughest challenges right now? Tackling. As in, how to tackle.
"Blocking is very physical, but tackling in the Pac-12, you've got more of the speedy receivers and the stronger backs," he said. "At safety, it's your job to bring those guys down in the open field. So tackling is probably the biggest thing I'm working on at the moment."
Allen has been moved around more than any other Ute in the past few months. He spent the summer with the safeties after playing receiver all spring. On Tuesday, coaches gave him corner reps after Reggie Porter went down with a season-ending injury.
The results, Allen readily acknowledges, are not always pretty. He's been burned a few times, caught keeping his eyes on the quarterback instead of his man. He still is learning technique and tendencies, and sometimes he makes fundamental errors.
But Allen is nothing if not dedicated. He said he's worked closely with Brian Blechen and Tevin Carter to learn his role, and he watches film after hours with safeties coach Morgan Scalley and cornerbacks coach Sharrieff Shah.
Sooner or later, he hopes, he'll pay off some of the faith that the coaching staff has put in him since he switched.
"I think my athleticism, coming from receiver to defense, can be a huge advantage for me," he said. "Going against longer guys, I can go up and get it, and with smaller guys, I can stay on their hips."
Taumoepenu moves to LB
With a new injury to Uaea Masina, the Utes are running low on linebackers.
Gionni Paul and Jacoby Hale are both still on the recovery trail, and though Masina should be back soon, coach Kyle Whittingham said, the team wants to see what sophomore Pita Taumoepenu can do at the position.
Taumoepenu is undersized as a defensive end, weighing in at 225 pounds on a 6-1 frame. But coaches believe his build is ideal for a linebacker, and they want to see if the pass-rushing specialist can expand his scope to covering the open field.
"It's just not a huge departure from what he's known as a D-end," defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake said. "Now he's a big linebacker compared to a small D-end. It just suits his body, and with his learning capability, he can get that down."
The move is helped along by switching walk-on Wallace Gonzalez from tight end to defensive end, in an effort to see if they can use the 6-foot-5 former minor leaguer up on the line.
Wilson, Thompson in "dead heat" still
Whittingham was pleased Thursday by the offense's morning practice, citing just about every offensive skill position as "standouts."
But still, he said, he's no closer to deciding the starting quarterback. Since Tuesday's scrimmage, both Travis Wilson and Kendal Thompson have been all but equal in his mind.
"They both understand it's a competition," he said. "Travis had the upper hand throughout particularly the early part of fall camp up until the scrimmage, when it was a dead heat. And the scrimmage is the major measuring stick."
Wilson seemed to welcome the challenge issued by Whittingham for the two to stand out in Saturday's scrimmage.
"I'm handling it just fine," he said. "I thought I had a really good practice today and did a lot of good things. I just gotta keep on playing well and make sure by the end of this week he knows who the for-sure starter's going to be."
At defensive tackle, Whittingham said Seni Fauonuku and Clint Shepard have the inside track to start, but the team will continue to rotate playing time throughout the year. … Whittingham acknowledged that the special teams was "a little bit rough" on Thursday, but he expected the snapping team and kicker Andy Phillips to improve throughout camp and the season.
O Highlight • One of the few observable special moments came at the end of practice, when Conner Manning fired a pass to a streaking Ryan Petersen. The ball was tipped by a corner, but Petersen a one-time flag football standout who just walked on managed to haul in the 20-yard reception for a touchdown.
Standout • Kyle Whittingham said he came away impressed with safety Tevin Carter, and said the senior has been shaking the rust off his game.