He’s doing a great job. Eric’s never been a real vocal guy. He’s really come out of his shell understanding that’s what we need in the secondary. —Utah safeties coach Morgan Scalley

SALT LAKE CITY — Eric Rowe is now the veteran in Utah’s secondary.

The junior, who has started in all 23 games he has played for the Utes, finds himself surrounded by a lot of new faces this season.

The free safety will patrol a defensive backfield that includes new starters at strong safety, both cornerback slots and nickel back. Brian Blechen’s move to linebacker and the graduation losses of Ryan Lacy, Moe Lee and Reggie Topps have left Rowe as the lone returnee.

It’s a role that carries the added responsibility of leadership as the Utes prepare for the 2013 season.

“The team needs it; the secondary needs it,” Rowe said. “So someone has to step up.”

And Rowe, a freshman All-American in 2011 and a Pac-12 honorable mention all-conference honoree in 2012, is more than willing to do it.

“He’s doing a great job. Eric’s never been a real vocal guy. He’s really come out of his shell understanding that’s what we need in the secondary,” said Utah safeties coach Morgan Scalley. “He’s also become a better playmaker. That’s got to translate to games obviously, but he’s been consistent in practice — the most consistent DB we have. He’s got to be the leader of this back end and guys responded to him.”

Rowe, who has made 133 tackles over the past two seasons, said it hasn’t been hard to add vocal leadership to his defensive duties. As the only one with extensive experience, he’s even been getting guys to speak up in huddles and such because they don’t realize how loud the crowd noise is in places like Rice-Eccles Stadium during games. Rowe also knows how to direct newcomers to where they’re supposed to be on the field.

“My responsibilities are like second nature to me,” explained the 6-foot-1, 205-pound safety from Spring, Texas.

What Rowe is curious about, however, is who will be Utah’s other safety. As camp begins to wind down and Saturday’s final scrimmage approaches, sophomore Charles Henderson is the front-runner at strong safety. Junior Tyron Morris-Edwards and senior Quade Chappuis are also in the mix.

“(Eric is) doing a good job. We’ve got to find the guy who is going to play next to him this Saturday because they’ve got to start playing together every snap,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. “The offensive line has got to jel and mesh together and the safeties have to do the same thing. So it’s important we do that.”

Rowe is confident that whoever gets the job, Utah’s other starting safety will be good. Same goes for the new starters at corner.

“We’re going to be fine in the secondary,” he said before noting the talent. “ ... Whoever is back there, they’re going to get it done.”

While Rowe noted that his main goals involve team success, he’s determined to get more interceptions. Although he has broken up 14 passes in his career, Rowe has picked off just two.

Utah had only eight as a team in 2012. Rowe, though, said the Utes were in position to make a lot more.

“We just dropped them. Just as simple as that,” he explained. “I had a few chances. I dropped them.”

Rowe’s biggest goal, thus, is to help raise the team’s takeaway total in 2013.

“That’s my main goal,” he said.

Scalley pointed out that the defensive backfield is working hard to be better tacklers and playmakers.

“It is that simple. We counted 10 (potential interceptions) that were in our hands and we let them go and that was just in the back end,” Scalley said. “All of a sudden you get those 10 and now you’re playmakers and everyone’s excited, so it’s just a matter of coming down with those and we’ve seen that improvement in spring ball and throughout camp.”

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