With four starters back from last year, the Utah offensive line had one big hole to fill this year at the center position, which Kyle Gunther manned the past two years.
Before camp started, it looked like a two-man battle between sophomore Zane Taylor and junior Tyler Williams. However, Taylor took control and looks like he'll be the starter when the Utes open the season at Michigan in two weeks.
"Zane Taylor's working hard and having a good camp," said offensive line coach Charlie Dickey. "He's starting right now and he's going to have to get beat out. It's not a lock he needs to keep working to get better."
Taylor never planned to play center when he was recruited out of Grand County High School in Moab.
"I think the last time I played center was in Little League," Taylor said. "I played mostly guard in high school. Coach Dickey wanted to give me a chance to compete because he knew I could play."
Dickey acknowledged he was looking for someone to play center after Gunther graduated, and Taylor fit the bill.
"We had to find some centers," he said. "We felt he had the body and the demeanor to play that, and he's smart. At center, you've got to snap it and then you've got to block. You're calling out stunts and blocking schemes, which all start with the center."
Taylor said he grew up as a Ute fan in Moab and, although he was recruited by BYU and had interest from Arizona State and Cal, he never considered anywhere else but Utah.
"I was always a Ute fan, especially after the '04 season," he said. "I couldn't think of a better place to go. As soon as they showed interest in me, I let them know this is where I wanted to go. I didn't even give anyone else a look."
He came to Utah as a defensive lineman, but after fall camp in 2006 he was switched to offensive guard. He played on the scout team and last year backed up Robert Conley, seeing some action on special teams and in blowout victories. In the spring he switched to center, where the Utes had a shortage of players with the graduation of Gunther.
Williams, who hails from Mililani, Hawaii, has been the backup center for two years, getting 20 snaps in each of the last two seasons. It didn't help that he rolled his ankle at practice earlier this week, but he has a chance to see time along with Taylor.
"I'm competing and I know Tyler is," Taylor said. "I can still learn from him and he learns from me. After a good spring, I don't feel I'm the new guy that has to catch up. I'm trying to be a leader on the O-line."
Although he's adapted to the center position rather well, Taylor doesn't plan to change his number, 77, which usually is reserved for tackles or defensive linemen (in college, centers aren't required to wear numbers in the 50s like in the NFL).8 comments on this story
"I'm keeping it," he said. "I was hoping I'd get my old number from high school (72), but Caleb Schlauderaff got it. I like it."One starting spot on the offensive line is still up for grabs as Schlauderaff and Corey Seiuli battle for the left guard position. Seiuli, a senior, started the first three games last year before being sidelined by an injury, and Schlauderaff took over, even though he was a true freshman.