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Utah football fall practice position preview: offensive line

Published: Saturday, July 26 2014 10:00 a.m. MDT

Hiva Lutui left, Viliseni Fauonuku practice with the University of Utah football team in Salt Lake City, Thursday, April 18, 2013. (Ravell Call, Deseret News) Hiva Lutui left, Viliseni Fauonuku practice with the University of Utah football team in Salt Lake City, Thursday, April 18, 2013. (Ravell Call, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — There’s perhaps no corps in football more important and underappreciated more than the offensive line. An offense is typically only as good as its offensive line, and on the line, experience makes all the difference.

The Utes will feature a line this year with four linemen that started at one point or another last season. Three of the five projected starters on Utah’s line this year are upperclassmen.

However, there is also youth on the line, and Utah will look to balance the two this season as it heads into its tough regular season schedule.

Returning experience

The Utes have four starting offensive linemen from last year returning this season.

Left tackle Jeremiah Poutasi (6-foot-6, 320 pounds), right guard Junior Salt (6-2, 315) and right tackle Isaac Asiata (6-4, 310) each return. Siaosi Aiono (6-2, 305), who spent time at right tackle last season, moves to center this year.

Jackson Barton fends off Hayden Clegg during a University of Utah football scrimmage at Rice-Eccles Stadium Saturday, April 12, 2014,  in Salt Lake City.   (Tom Smart, Deseret News) Jackson Barton fends off Hayden Clegg during a University of Utah football scrimmage at Rice-Eccles Stadium Saturday, April 12, 2014, in Salt Lake City. (Tom Smart, Deseret News)

Only Poutasi has more than 15 career starts in his collegiate career, but there are 46 combined total starts between the four guys. Aiono has learned the center position quickly, beginning in practice this spring and is projected to become the starting center.

Poutasi will look to anchor the group as the most experienced linemen and might be able to put himself into Pac-12 postseason award spotlight.

Guards Marc Pouvave (6-3, 302), Hiva Lutui (6-1, 294), Kala Friel (6-3, 315) and Derek Tuimauga (6-3, 316), as well as tackles J.J. Dielman (6-5, 295), and center Nick Nowakowski (6-1, 295) each have at least one varsity letter.

Key additions

Incoming freshman Jackson Barton (6-7, 300) adds size and talent as a four-star recruit. The Brighton High product enrolled early to participate in spring practice. He enters as the fourth-best tackle recruit in the country, according to Rivals.com and is one of the top 100 overall recruits in the country.

Utah Utes tight end Westlee Tonga (80) celebrates his touchdown with  Utah Utes offensive linesman Derek Tuimauga (67) during a  team scrimmage in Salt Lake City  Friday, April 5, 2013.  (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News) Utah Utes tight end Westlee Tonga (80) celebrates his touchdown with Utah Utes offensive linesman Derek Tuimauga (67) during a team scrimmage in Salt Lake City Friday, April 5, 2013. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

Though redshirt freshman tackle Salesi Uhatafe (6-4, 315) is not a fresh face to the Utes, he will be new to the line come game day. Uhatafe won the final starting job — at right guard — out of spring practice, and will be another key addition to the line. Rivals.com rated Uhatafe as a three-star recruit last year out of Euless, Texas.

Tackle Andrew Albers (6-7, 310) redshirted last season after transferring from Orange Coast College and adds more size to the tackle position.

Dark horse

Aiono may not have experience at center, but has the potential to be a productive center to help anchor the line and one of the unsung heroes on the line. He played well as an undersized tackle, but could be the perfect fit to play center. He showed strong ability in spring practice at the spot despite having very little experience at the spot.

Redshirt freshman Salesi Uhatafe during a football scrimmage at Rice-Eccles Stadium Saturday, April 12, 2014,  in Salt Lake City.   (Tom Smart, Deseret News) Redshirt freshman Salesi Uhatafe during a football scrimmage at Rice-Eccles Stadium Saturday, April 12, 2014, in Salt Lake City. (Tom Smart, Deseret News)

General outlook

The Utes have a solid and seasoned line that mixes in some fresh, young talent. It has the potential to help open up more of the Utes offense that struggled last season.

The line should have little to no problems by the start of the season against FCS Idaho State and Fresno State. The real question will be how they hold up once the Utes hit the thick of their schedule?

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