As football increasingly becomes a sideline-to-sideline sport, players who used to be big safeties are morphing into mobile linebackers.
Utah’s Chase Hansen is Exhibit A of a player making that transition seamlessly.
Hansen earned honorable-mention All-Pac-12 recognition as a strong safety in 2016 and spent most of last season there as well. But Utah’s personnel, Hansen’s skill set and the changing nature of the sport prompted a switch this offseason.
“The move was kind of inevitable,” Hansen said at Pac-12 Media Day in August. “I knew we had two really good safeties in the program (Corrion Ballard and Marquise Blair). There was a gap to be filled at linebacker. I was a bigger safety. I was kind of ready for it.”
The 6-foot-3-inch Hansen bulked up to 230 pounds and has excelled at Utah’s rover linebacker position. He leads the team with 43 tackles, including 10 stops for losses. He trails only Arizona’s Colin Schooler (11.5) in that category.
Hansen is just as valuable to the Utes as Schooler is to the Wildcats.
“Chase Hansen is a beast,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham told reporters after Hansen was named Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week following a 12-tackle, two-sack, pick-six performance against Northern Illinois on Sept. 8.
“He was all over the place. His transition to linebacker has been exactly what we hoped it would be.”
Hansen was an ideal candidate to make the move. When he played safety, he spent considerable time near the line of scrimmage.
“I was kind of that third ’backer most of the time,” Hansen said.
Said Whittingham: “It was not new to him in that respect. He has the size and the strength, and he has great speed. He is prototypical for what they look for in that position at the next level.
“I am not trying to paint the picture that it is an easy transition, because not everybody can do it. But he has the skill set and the makeup to be successful there. It has helped us as a defense and made us faster.”
Utah has the top-ranked defense in the Pac-12. Hansen has done a little bit of everything for it from his new spot.
There’s a side benefit for him as well.
“Just being involved in every play,” Hansen said, “without having to sprint 30-plus yards.”