SALT LAKE CITY (AP) Freshman Chase Hansen is the quarterback of the future for No. 3 Utah, but in the meantime, he's switched jerseys and sides of the ball.
The former four-star recruit and 2011 Utah high school player of the year has moved to safety with the team off to a 6-0 start and eying a berth in the College Football Playoff.
The new No. 22 jumped at the opportunity when coaches broached the subject. He started practicing with the defense on Oct. 14 and received snaps during the 34-18 defeat of Arizona State three days later.
''I said absolutely, I want to do whatever I can to play a part in helping this team,'' Hansen said. ''I played plenty of defense in high school. ... I always loved it. I always loved contact. I always loved hitting. It was never really a problem for me. Giving it a shot wasn't really a big change.''
Hansen was actually in the preseason competition to start under center. Four-year starter Travis Wilson won the job and senior Kendal Thompson is the backup. Coach Kyle Whittingham made the decision to get Hansen's elite athleticism on the field one way or another. He's listed as 6-foot-3, 216 pounds and Whittingham said he runs a 4.5 40-yard dash. The coach said he has NFL athleticism.
Whittingham insisted the move isn't permanent.
''He's fast, he's tough, he's got size, he's instinctive,'' Whittingham said. ''As the third quarterback, there's not really any reps for him right now. It's just temporary. It's just until the season ends and then for spring, he'll be back as a quarterback. That's the vision we have right now.
''We have not by any stretch given up on him as a quarterback. This is not any indication or sign that he's not cutting the mustard as a quarterback. Not at all.''
But it may be a sign that the Utah coaching staff realizes the situation that they're in. The Utes are the last undefeated team in the Pac-12 and a berth in the playoffs is a real possibility. This is a significant step for a program that has only been in the Pac-12 since 2011 and posted a winning record in the conference for the first time in 2014.
''When next year comes, we'll take care of next year,'' Hansen said. ''It's such an awesome time to be a part of this team. A time that you don't want to miss because you're next year's guy. Coaches are always safety first, but I think right now it's let's win every game this year.''
Whittingham disagreed with the sentiment. He said the staff does everything possible every year to give the team its best chance to win regardless of record. That's true to a point, but coaches across college football redshirt and hold back players due to future considerations all the time.
There is clearly a comfort level with Hansen. He's already been playing special teams and has gotten a few quarterback snaps this season. Hansen is an athletic dual-threat quarterback who threw for 3,066 yards and 38 touchdowns and ran for 1,404 yards and 16 touchdowns as a high school senior.
Technique has been the biggest challenge so far for Hansen. Moving backward in coverage and detailing the proper footwork has been a process, but there are quarterback traits that are coming in handy.
''I feel playing quarterback has helped a lot,'' Hansen said ''It's going to help a lot in the near future because I feel like a lot of safety, from what I'm learning, is getting in the head of the quarterback and trying to see what he sees and get a bead on the ball. There's a lot of technique things I've still got to work on, but mentally, it's a big positive kind of knowing how quarterback works.''
Hansen joins a Utah defense that ranks No. 2 in the country with 13 interceptions and is deep in the secondary. It's unknown how much Hansen will play.
Another question arises about the future: Can a starting quarterback play both ways?
''I don't know,'' Hansen said. ''I would love to. I would do it in a heartbeat.''