Originally recruited as a quarterback, true freshman Brian Blechen has made a smooth transition to defense. The 18-year-old from Moorpark, Calif., quickly climbed the depth chart and is expected to be the starter at strong safety when Utah opens the season Thursday at home against Pittsburgh.

The 6-foot-2, 208-pound Blechen has drawn a lot of praise from the coaching staff for picking things up quickly. Safeties coach Morgan Scalley said Blechen is taking care of business on and off the field; knows the defense; and is making plays.

Blechen will be joined in the defensive backfield by senior Justin Taplin-Ross, who is ticketed to be the starting free safety.

— Dirk Facer