Tom Smart, Deseret News
Lei Talamaivao rushes Michigan quarterback Steven Threet in the Utes' season opener. Talamaivao broke his fibula against UNLV.

Through two games, there have been two constants with Utah's defensive tackles — Greg Newman and injuries.

Whoever has started alongside the senior has wound up getting hurt. Kenape Eliapo broke his foot in the Michigan game and will be out six to eight weeks. Lei Talamaivao suffered a broken fibula in Saturday's 42-21 victory over UNLV and is sidelined for the rest of the season.

"It's tough. Especially now with Lei gone," Newman said. "Some guys are going to have to step up."

Senior Aaron Tonga tops the depth chart at nose tackle this week with true freshman Sealver Siliga and Dave Kruger listed as the backups at tackle, a position where the Utes generally like to rotate four players into the mix.

"I think they're going to be able to get the job done," said Newman, who acknowledged defensive tackle can be a really hard position for a freshman to play. "You've got to have a lot of intangibles like size, strength and knowledge to figure out the scheme."

The Utes were already thin at the position before the injuries to Eliapo and Talamaivao. As such, Newman has been seeing a lot of action this season — something he appreciates.

"I don't get any breaks. I'm in there every snap. It's fine. I'm in shape and I feel great," Newman said. "Coach has put his trust in me to get the job done and I feel confident in my abilities to be able to do that."

Newman enters this weekend's game at Utah State as the team's fifth-leading tackler. He had a career-high eight stops against UNLV, including two tackles-for-loss and a pass breakup.

"He played at as high of a level at defensive tackle as anyone I've had play here for 10 years," said defensive coordinator Gary Andersen, who noted that Newman readily made the switch from end to tackle this season. "He played very consistent through spring ball and did a great job in fall camp. He's definitely a leader inside."

Newman's leadership has come in handy, especially with players like Tonga and Siliga lacking a lot of game experience.

"I expect them to play very well," Andersen said. "But at the end

of the day we can't replace Kenape and Lei. That's the bottom line. We need to continue to work with the kids we have. It's very unfortunate for both those (injured) kids."

It remains to be seen exactly who'll play alongside Newman this week. Whittingham hopes to have the depth chart in order by Wednesday.

"I can't give you a definitive answer on how it's going to stack up today," he said. "But certainly as the week progresses we've got to get that thing solidified and ironed out who our two-deep is going to be."

The Utes have plenty of options, ranging from the current depth chart to shuffling the deck up front. About the only thing Whittingham dismissed was the possibility of moving tight end Neli A'asa back to the defensive line where he played last season.

There will be no offense to defense moves, he added, to fix the problem.

Whittingham said for the time being they plan to take a look at moving defensive end Koa Misi inside or going with freshmen Derrick Shelby or David Kruger. Shelby saw action last week and played well, while Kruger is likely to be pulled out of a planned redshirt year.

The latter isn't absolute, Whittingham noted, but will be looked at in practice this week.

Another possibility is moving defensive end Koa Misi inside, where he has some experience, and putting Kruger on the opposite end of his older brother Paul. Whittingham explained that the younger Kruger's current body type (265 pounds) is more suited to play end instead of tackle.

Then again ...

"One possibility is to leave the ends as they are because they're very effective and try to find another combination inside that will work out for us," said Whittingham, who noted that linebacker Nai Fotu also has experience at defensive end.

The Utes, obviously, have plenty of options to explore.

EXTRA POINTS: Safety Robert Johnson (hamstring), left tackle Zane Beadles (knee) and quarterback Corbin Louks (shoulder) are probable this week after missing the UNLV game ... Whittingham said that David Reed and John Peel have solidified kickoff and punt return duties, respectively ... USU has lost seven straight home games and has prevailed just once over their past 12 outings at Romney Stadium.

Battle of the brothers

No. 22 Utah (2-0) at Utah State (0-2)

Saturday, 6 p.m.

TV: KJZZ, Ch. 14

Radio: 700AM


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