SALT LAKE CITY — It was a staggering number. When asked how many offensive linemen the Utes would like to have in their rotation this season, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham joked that 20 would do.
“But we won’t have that,” he said. “So if we can find eight that would be great.”
Logistically, that means the starters, a backup center, as well as a guard and a tackle that can each play on both sides of the line.
“I think we have the guys that could do that,” said offensive line coach Jim Harding. “But we’re not in a position right now to where you would feel extremely confident. I think we have the pieces there. We’ve just got to continue to develop.”
Although it’s still just the second week of camp, Utah has several players in place. The Utes have four returning starters back — right guard Jordan Agasiva (6-3, 320), left tackle Jackson Barton (6-7, 308), center Lo Falemaka (6-5, 295) and right tackle Darrin Paulo (6-5, 313), the lone junior among the seniors.
“It’s nice to get everybody in there and pick it up on day one (of camp). We don’t start from brand new,” Barton said. “We just pick it up where we left from spring ball. So that’s been really good for the most part.”
Barton added that the younger guys have also been bringing things along.
Earlier this week, Whittingham noted that redshirt freshman Nick Ford (6-5, 315) would join Agasiva, Barton, Falemaka and Paulo as a starter if the season began now.
Ford, though, is being challenged by sophomore Orlando Umana (6-4, 320) at left guard.
“That’s a good battle right now,” Whittingham said.
On the depth chart that was released at the start of camp, junior Johnny Capra (6-6, 301) topped the left guard spot with senior Alani Havili-Katoa (6-3, 305) listed as the backup. As camp progressed, however, the underclassmen have emerged,
“When a starting spot opens up it creates competition and competition creates great practice habits,” Barton said. “I think the younger guys I’ve seen competing for that left guard spot have been phenomenal.”
Whittingham noted that Umana is definitely in the top six overall at this point, The search for No. 7 and No. 8 is ongoing. Umana opened camp on the two-deep. So, too, did junior center Paul Toala (6-4, 319) and redshirt freshman tackle Mo Unutoa (6-5, 300).
True freshman tackle Braeden E. Daniels (6-4, 284) is also meriting consideration. Whittingham said Daniels is doing a great job and has really progressed, putting on 30 pounds over the past three months.
As always, Whittingham emphasized that the Utes will try to get the best five linemen out on the field.
Harding said the competition is going well.
“We’re definitely taking steps in the right direction. We’ve just got to make sure that we don’t have any wasted practices and things like that,” he added. “So I’m pleased with the progress right now, but we’re definitely not where we need to be.”
The Utes have a good history of getting there. They’ve had five offensive linemen taken in the NFL draft over the past two seasons.
“I think every year is different, but I think this group has the ability to be really good,” said Harding, who expressed confidence that the Utes can find eight guys to rely on. “(With) four guys having significant playing time and starting a number of games, I think we’re definitely in a position to have more experience than last year and be deeper. But we’ve got to continue to get better and there’s definitely some things that we need to improve upon.”
On Wednesday, Whittingham said that depth on the offensive line is the biggest concern at this point of camp, making sure they come away with at least eight guys they feel really good about.
“Right now we’re not there yet,” he explained. “Close, but not there yet.”
EXTRA POINTS: Whittingham said the Utes are “on pace” through seven practices. They have a scrimmage set for Saturday to “get a gauge of where they’re at” . . . Sophomore linebacker Moroni Anae is out for the season with an ankle injury . . . Leading newcomers, according to Whittingham, include Daniels, wide receiver Solomon Enis, running back Devin Brumfield, quarterback Jack Tuttle, defensive tackles Paul Maile and Jackson Cravens, linebacker Bryant Pirtle, safety R.J. Hubert, and long snapper Maddie Golden.