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Utah Utes football notebook: D-line is as deep, talented as ever

Published: Thursday, Aug. 25 2011 9:25 p.m. MDT

Joe Kruger leads a reloaded defensive line with his skill as a pass rusher, something the unit specializes in. The depth on the line will allow the Utes to rotate and stay fresh. (Tom Smart, Deseret News) Joe Kruger leads a reloaded defensive line with his skill as a pass rusher, something the unit specializes in. The depth on the line will allow the Utes to rotate and stay fresh. (Tom Smart, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah has reloaded — and then some — on the defensive line.

Despite losing all-conference standouts Christian Cox and Sealver Siliga from 2010, the Utes may be better than ever up front.

"It's definitely deeper than last year," said sophomore defensive end Joe Kruger, who is a projected starter on the left side.

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham agrees with the assessment.

"I think we are as deep and as talented on the defensive line as we've ever been," he said. "And we have some pretty good edge pass rushers, beginning with Joe Kruger. That's his forte, is his pass rushing."

Whittingham noted that senior Derrick Shelby, the depth chart leader at right end, is also a good pass rusher. The Utes also get a good push inside. Senior James Aiono and junior Dave Kruger are co-starters at tackle, while junior Star Lotulelei is the leader at nose tackle.

Utah Offensive Line Coach Tim Davis talks with Latu Heimuli at Rice Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Friday, Aug. 12, 2011. () Utah Offensive Line Coach Tim Davis talks with Latu Heimuli at Rice Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Friday, Aug. 12, 2011. ()

"That's where pass defense starts. Pass defense begins at the line of scrimmage," Whittingham said. "If you have a big pass rush, it's a lot easier to play coverage."

As was the case last season, the Utes are expected to rotate a lot of players in. Top reserves at end include senior Nai Fotu, freshman Nate Fakahafua and senior Tevita Finau, who will see action at nose tackle. Sophomore LT Tuipulotu is also on the latest depth chart.

CHOW TIME: Offensive coordinator Norm Chow said the toughest thing Utah will face in the Pac-12 is the constant grind.

"It's a week-by-week deal," he explained. "It's going to be tough. Yes it is."

A reporter asked Chow if it'll be fun.

"Fun? I don't know if it's fun," Chow said before noting that everybody looks forward to the competition and the competitiveness on Saturday afternoons. "Nothing beats it."

QUICK STUDY: Junior college transfer Miles Mason, a 6-foot-3, 316-pound offensive lineman who reported to the Utes late last week, quickly earned a spot on the depth chart as John Cullen's backup at left tackle.

Whittingham calls him a pleasant surprise.

"We are fortunate to have him with us. He fills a void for us," Whittingham said. "First of all, we're thin to begin with then we lose four or five guys during the course of fall camp to various injuries and so he's a guy that right now is in the two-deep."

Mason participated in last Saturday's scrimmage and made a good showing.

"We're just ecstatic that he is with us," Whittingham said.

SILKY SMOOTH: Whittingham was recently asked if Chaz Walker has the nicest hair on the team. The senior linebacker from Davis High School has long, flowing locks.

"Nicest hair? You know I don't really pay attention," Whittingham said. "We've got some bizarre hairdos. I really don't notice. Sorry."

EXTRA POINTS: Thursday's practice was closed to the media … The annual "Fan Fest" is set for Saturday (10 a.m.-1 p.m.) at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Admission and parking is free. The football team is scheduled to arrive at noon.

Email: dirk@desnews.com

Twitter: @DirkFacer

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