Steve C Wilson
SALT LAKE CITY — He said it on the first day of camp more than three weeks ago and nothing has changed for Utah coach Kyle Whittingham in the meantime.
The play of offensive line is still his No. 1 concern heading into the season.
"The offensive line is really going to be the key," Whittingham said this week after commenting on how solid the offense was at quarterback, running back, tight end and receivers. "If that position jells and comes together, then I think we have a chance to be very good on offense."
The Utes' O-line has been plagued by some injuries, minor and major, but finally got the starting group together every day this past week.
"We've had three straight days with the same five out there and we're starting to develop that chemistry," Whittingham said. "But it's going to take every one of these practices and probably a couple of weeks into the season to get these guys completely comfortable with each other."
The Utes have three returning starters on the offensive line in center Tevita Stevens, right guard Sam Brenner and left tackle Miles Mason. They had expected highly-touted junior college transfer Marc Pouvave to perhaps earn a starting position, but he went down for the year with a torn Achilles before camp even started.
The two new starters on the O-line are junior Percy Taumoelau and junior Jeremiah Tofaeono, who are replacing departed seniors Tony Bergstrom and John Cullen.
Taumoelau, a 6-foot-4, 305-pounder who played for Cottonwood High, has played in 16 games the past two years with most of his action coming in last year's win over BYU. He is a nephew of the Kaufusi brothers who played at Utah and a cousin of tight end David Rolf.
He acknowledges "there's more pressure" now that he's a starter and adds, "We've just got to do our job and take care of Jordan Wynn and the offense will be rolling."
Tofaeono hails from Las Vegas, where he was an all-state player for Cheyenne High. His choices out of high school came down to Utah and Washington and he's happy he came to Utah because of the "brotherhood" he feels with his teammates. He also doesn't believe there will be any dropoff in the offensive line this season.
"I think we're going to be real good," he says. "I have no doubt in our starting five as well as the backups. The offensive line has been a dominant part of the team the last few years and we plan to keep that up."
Mason joined the Utes in the final week of last year's fall camp from El Camino College and immediately earned the starting left guard position. In this year's camp he has been hobbled by a high ankle sprain, but is back to full practicing now.
"It's getting better and better every day," he said. "We've got a good group of guys and we're definitely going to be all right."
Unlike other positions such as defensive line and linebacker, the offensive line is not one where the Utes want to rotate players. Whittingham says the two other players likely to see action on the O-line are Vyncent Jones, a junior out of Jordan High, who can play guard or center, and Latu Heimuli, a junior from Highland High, who can play several offensive line positions.
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