SALT LAKE CITY — Improving team speed became a top priority for Utah after suffering consecutive losing seasons for the first time in 24 years.
Judging by the 2014 signing class the Utes brought in Wednesday, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham believes his team made great strides in that direction — especially in the secondary where a lack a depth and inexperience helped lead to multiple big plays and several close losses during the 2013 season.
The Utes made a concerted effort to shore up that secondary going into 2014. Out of Utah's 16 new players, six were recruited to play as defensive backs.
"We feel we match up at the line of scrimmage with anybody in the country," Whittingham said, noting Utah's strengths at run defense and getting sacks in Pac-12 play. "But we needed to improve our speed and athleticism on the perimeter and that really is something that jumps at you when you look at this class."
Senior Tevin Carter headlines the new crop of defensive backs. Carter originally signed with Utah a year ago and was expected to make a big impact in 2013, but he failed to qualify academically and sat out a season.
The Utes made recruiting inroads in Florida and Louisiana, signing a total of seven players from those southern states. Donovan Isom, one of the Louisiana recruits, could challenge for the starting job at quarterback with Travis Wilson's playing status still undetermined for the 2014 season. Isom passed for more than 2,600 yards and 33 touchdowns as a senior at Destrehan High and also rushed for 530 yards and nine touchdowns on 82 carries.
Only one player rated higher than three stars signed with the Utes. Jackson Barton, a four-star offensive lineman from Utah, graduated from high school early and enrolled in college last month.
One player that nearly slipped through Utah's grasp was Florida running back Dacorius "DJ" Law. A wild signing day battle saw both the Utes and Mississippi claim that they had received a signed letter of intent from Law.
It wasn't until late Wednesday afternoon that Utah announced Law as part of the class.
"I can't give you all the details because first of all I'm not sure of all the details," Whittingham said. "I just know our compliance (office) feels very good about our situation with D.J. and we're adding him into our class."
Twelve players out of the 16 signed by Utah are incoming freshmen. Three are junior college transfers.
Carter and Kaelin Clay already signed during the mid-year JC signing period in December. Barton and fellow freshman Alani Havili-Katao both enrolled at Utah at the start of the winter semester.
Those four players will participate in Utah's spring camp, which starts on March 18.
National rankings (Rivals 68; Scout 72)
Best in class: OL, Jackson Barton, Cottonwood Heights, Utah
Best of the rest: QB, Donovan Isom, Destrehan, Louisiana
Late addition: DB D.J. Law, Haines City, Florida
One that got away: TE, Dalton Schultz, South Jordan, Utah