Utah spring practice preview: Defensive line

Published: Friday, March 15 2013 3:30 p.m. MDT

Utah's Trevor Reilly, left, and teammate Nate Fakahafua rush Arizona's Quarterback Matt Scott as Utah and Arizona play Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012, at Rice Eccles Stadium. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News) Utah's Trevor Reilly, left, and teammate Nate Fakahafua rush Arizona's Quarterback Matt Scott as Utah and Arizona play Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012, at Rice Eccles Stadium. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah football is often headlined by a dominant defensive line unit that could rival most defensive fronts around the country. After losing three of its starters — including Star Lotulelei who was widely considered the top defensive tackle nationally — there is some concern surrounding the position for 2013.

While Utah will lack starting experience along its defensive front, it doesn’t lack talent and potential. Dan Sorensen, who is the managing editor of utezone.com, believes the parts are there for Utah to present a productive defensive line.

“You have a bunch of guys that have battled through injury and most of them were highly regarded out of high school,” Sorensen said. “Overall you lose a lot with Lotulelei and Joe and David Kruger, but there are plenty of talent still in the program that will get a chance to lock down spots this spring.”

The lone returning starter is Nate Orchard (6-3, 250), who was known as Nate Fakahafua last season.

“Orchard will undoubtedly be one of the starters at defensive end and should have a breakthrough season,” Sorensen says. “He showed well all through last season and has the talent to be an outstanding defensive end.”

Trevor Reilly (6-5, 245) brings a lot of experience and will focus on playing defensive end this season after splitting time at linebacker in the past. Reilly isn’t expected to participate in spring due to injury, but should be fully healthy come fall.

Others competing for spots at defensive end include Hunter Dimick (6-3, 261), Moses Folauhola (6-0, 252) and Rugby start Thretton Palamo (6-2, 250.)

“Palamo has the type of talent to be an Ezekiel Ansah-type story for the Utes,” Sorensen says. “He obviously has a lot of work to do, but the talent is there. He just needs to get the fundamentals down and he could really be a great story for Utah this year. Dimick has a big-time motor and is ready to play a big part this coming year.”

At defensive tackle the Utes will rely primarily on JUCO transfer Tenny Palepoi (6-3, 305) who saw some good experience last season.

“Tenny really came on strong last season to provide consistent play,” Sorensen said. “He definitely has NFL potential — obviously not quite the potential that Star Lotulelei showed, but he’s a very good player who should really do well this year and is regarded by coaches as the top option at defensive tackle going into spring practices.”

Others expected to play significant roles after battling through injuries include LT Tuipulotu (6-1, 303) and Latu Heimuli (6-3, 301), who is expected to focus on playing defensive tackle after giving offensive line a try last season. Another exciting option is Steve Tuikolovatu (6-2, 305), who returned from his LDS mission last fall.

“Both of them have a lot of talent, but haven’t been able to perform like they want because they’ve been hurt for a lot of their careers,” Sorensen said. “Tuikolovatu is someone coaches are very high on and really expect him to make an impact this season.”

While replacing players such as Lotulelei won’t be easy, Utah certainly looks to have enough depth and talent to provide typically dominant play along its defensive front again for 2013.

“There’s some good talent arriving in fall, but spring provides a great chance for all these guys to really establish themselves,” Sorensen says. “Coaches really like the talent they have and it’s the type of talent that Utah always seems to have at defensive line. With top guys like Sam Tevi and Gaius Vaenuku coming in the fall Utah should have more than enough talent to make up for the players who left after last year.”

Email: bgurney@desnews.com Twitter: @BrandonCGurney

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