Utah Utes football: Beefed up offensive line has Kyle Whittingham beaming
Tom Smart, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's offensive line is getting bigger and better in the Pac-12.
"It's pretty easy to see," said quarterback Jordan Wynn. "It's pretty obvious to the eye that we definitely have some bigger bodies out there."
So much so, in fact, that Utah coach Kyle Whittingham points to the position when noting that the Utes are looking like a Pac-12 team size-wise.
"We're looking the part and we're taking steps towards that end, particularly on the o-line," Whittingham said. "That's probably the place where we helped ourselves the most, physically."
All 11 offensive linemen on Utah's camp-opening depth chart weigh at least 300 pounds. By comparison, the Utes' 2003 Liberty Bowl team had only five starters or backups who were that big.
"What you're seeing is we're getting a lot more attention from those types of guys," said Utah recruiting coordinator and safeties coach Morgan Scalley. "When the announcement was made that we were going to the Pac-12, we instantly saw a lot more people interested in the University of Utah and the interest has continued to grow."
And how — on the offensive line.
Daniel Nielson, a 6-foot-6, 320-pound redshirt freshman, has noticed the changes.
"You see the size going up and up and the skill getting better and better," he said. "So it's keeping me on my toes."
Senior center Tevita Stevens (6-3, 300) agreed that the Utes are definitely bringing in bigger guys each year. At the same time, he credits strength and conditioning director Doug Elisaia and his staff for helping linemen already in the program increase their physical size as well.
Stevens, who is poised to be a four-year starter on the offensive line, said everything has changed in the trenches as Utah adjusts to life in the Pac-12.
The new big addition to the depth chart up front is junior college transfer Carlos Lozano, who is 6-foot-6 and weighs 385 pounds. Another sizeable newcomer — Marc Pouvave (6-4, 336) — was also supposed to compete for one of Utah's starting jobs at offensive tackle in camp. However, he'll miss the entire season with an Achilles injury.
Highly touted high school signee Jeremiah Poutasi (6-5, 322) could work his way onto the depth chart as camp progresses.
In the meantime, no one is asking "Where's the beef?" along Utah's offensive line.
Projected interior starters include Stevens, left guard Jeremiah Tofaeono (6-2, 320) and right guard Sam Brenner (6-4, 305). Vyncent Jones (6-3, 300), Latu Heimuli (6-2, 315) and Siaosi Aiono (6-2, 305) are listed as primary backups on the two-deep roster.
The most critical battle in camp, however, is at tackle where the Utes need to replace graduated all-conference starters Tony Bergstrom and John Cullen.
"We know we have to get guys to come in and fill in those spots," Stevens said while noting there's a sense of urgency to do so. "That's got to happen now. We can't just sit and wait around."
While expressing confidence that the Utes have a pool of qualified candidates, Stevens acknowledged there's pressure being put on them to step up by teammates.
And the tackles are responding.
"Guys are getting after it," Stevens said. "Right now, we're not in full pads or anything but you can just see the intensity in them."
At left tackle, junior Percy Taumoelau (6-4, 305) opened camp in the top spot with redshirt freshman Kala Friel (6-4, 305) listed as No. 2. Senior Miles Mason (6-3, 305) leads the way at right tackle. Lozano and Nielson are also on the depth chart.
"It's a good crew of tackles, a lot of competition," Nielson said. "We're brothers on the field but at the same time we're fighting for the spots."
As such, he added, the competition is "friendly and not-so-friendly at the same time."
Things are sure to heat up next week when full-contact play begins and decisions are made.
UTAH CAMP REPORT
Day 2: In a repeat of the first day, the Utes practiced for two hours in the morning. They'll add helmets and shoulder pads Saturday while working through the NCAA's acclimatization period.
Standouts: Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said the "usual guys" like quarterback Jordan Wynn, running back John White, cornerback Mo Lee and defensive tackle Star Lotulelei performed well. Whittingham noted that wide receiver Kenneth Scott has had a very good first two days of camp.
Injuries: Wide receiver DeVonte Christopher suffered a mild shoulder sprain Thursday and will be held out of practice until Monday.
Overheard: "No different thoughts today than yesterday. I'm still very pleased with the new group of players (and) everybody's still working hard." — Kyle Whittingham
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