Utah football: Safety Corrion Ballard doesn’t mind having big shoes to fill – Salt Lake Tribune

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The eyes of scouts representing all 32 NFL teams were on Marcus Williams on Thursday morning during Utah Pro Day.

Also watching: the man who hopes to take Williams’ former position.

Corrion Ballard, Utah’s 19-year-old early enrollee from junior college, watched Williams, who is widely expected to be a millionaire when he gets picked in the NFL draft, perform. And Ballard, a 6-foot-3 free safety who hails from Humble, Texas, hopes to be next in line.

“Man, it makes me push harder,” he said. “I want to get to that point where he’s at. I want to be in his shoes.”













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Ballard could hardly pick bigger shoes to fill than Williams’. The all-conference safety had 10 interceptions in the past two seasons, yet also tackled in the run game better than any other FBS safety, according to Pro Football Focus. But gradually, Ballard is winning believers: Coaches see his potential as he fights to become the next star in the secondary.

His cohort Chase Hansen, who is the secondary’s only returning starter, said Ballard’s defining trait is his big, powerful, loping strides. He can cover a lot of ground quickly when he wants to.

“I don’t know if you want to call it the eye test,” Hansen said, “but when you really see him start moving, when he really starts moving toward someone, he looks like he’s about to blast ’em.”

Those were the things that drew Utah to Ballard in the recruiting process: The co-defensive player of the year in his conference at Blinn College, Ballard has long arms and legs that the Utes identified as physical tools they wanted out of a safety. He was all over the field in junior college, registering five sacks in addition to three interceptions.

For Ballard, the decision to go with Utah was also easy: He saw the defense as one that allows its free safety to show what he can do.

“The defense they run, it’s made for a free safety,” he said. “Basically show off the range, ballhawking, tackling skills.”

Defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley said the Utes knew fairly early on last year that Williams would move on after the season, and recruited Ballard with the idea that he could be an immediate replacement. He acknowledged getting Ballard’s letter of intent in December, the same day he publicly announced his commitment, was a big recruiting win.

Coach Kyle Whittingham has named Ballard a standout after every practice so far. A perfectionist at heart, Scalley said there are things he’d like to see Ballard improve at, specifically his ball skills and playing faster.

“Some guys aren’t coached to run to the ball every single play,” Scalley said. “He’s getting used to that, being a guy that shows up on film every single down and not watching the play and not hoping that another guy makes the play. … He’s getting more confident and playing with more effort, getting in actual football shape.”

Saturday morning’s practice wasn’t a big showcase for Ballard: The Utes struggled to throw the ball in the cold rain at Rice-Eccles Stadium. But it was a test of a different kind for the Texan, who said he’s still getting used to Utah’s altitude and temperature.

“It’s seeing who’s tough enough, who really wants to play football,” he said. “It’s a lot different than Texas, but I’m handling it pretty well, I think.”

kgoon@sltrib.com

Twitter: @kylegoon




































 











































































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