SALT LAKE CITY — As spring camp gets underway, one of the biggest concerns for the Utes is the offensive line — one of the most integral position groups on the football field.
“We’ve got our work cut out for us in some spots. The offensive line has some holes to fill, and linebacker, and a couple of other areas,” Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said. “But a good start today, a lot of energy and enthusiasm, which is always the case on Day One.”
Without pads, offensive line coach Jim Harding acknowledged that it’s tough to do a full evaluation, but he is looking for some specific things as spring ball gets going.
“First and foremost is mental: where are they at in terms of knowing their assignments? Secondly would be footwork, because regardless of what gear we have on, we can always have good footwork. Right now, we’ll go up and take a look at film and there will be plenty of things that we can improve on, but I thought it was pretty good start,” Harding said.
Last season, the offensive line got off to a rough start, but improved as the season progressed. In a 17-6 win at Northern Illinois, the O-line struggled, allowing six sacks and 14 tackles for loss. But, as the season went on, the offensive line vastly improved — blocking for running backs like Zack Moss, Armand Shyne and TJ Green, along with mobile quarterbacks Tyler Huntley and Jason Shelley, to help Utah to the best rushing offense in the Pac-12.
2018’s offensive line group was headlined by Jackson Barton (LT), Jordan Agasiva (RG), Orlando Umana (LG/C), Lo Falemaka (C/LG) and Darrin Paulo (RT). Barton, Agasiva, Umana and Paulo started every game they played in (Barton, Agasiva and Umana played all 14 games last season, while Paulo played in every game but the first matchup with Washington).
The Utes will have big holes to fill this year, as Barton (first-team All-Pac-12), Agasiva (first-team All-Pac-12) and Falemaka (honorable mention All-Pac-12) all graduated, leaving Utah with only two full-time offensive line starters in Umana and Paulo for 2019.
Paulo, a senior, and Umana, a junior, will be the leaders on the offensive line this year. Both expressed how important mentoring a young offensive line is.
“We’ve got to just help the other guys catch up and get ready for the season,” Umana said.
“They’re good guys, they’re really good guys. We’ve just got to get them up to speed, especially with this new offense. I’ve got to take time with them to help them out,” Paulo said of the offensive line newcomers.
Paulo headlines the spring depth chart at left tackle after playing all of 2018 at right tackle. He hopes his experience will help him if he moves to left tackle.
“It’ll obviously help me if I do move over to the left side, but I think I’m trying to give my experience to the other guys to help them out a little more, take on more of a leader role, hopefully that helps,” Paulo said.
Umana is slated for center in the spring. Umana filled in for an injured Lo Falemaka at center, getting his first start at center during the Stanford game, then finishing the rest of the season at center.
“Just getting used to the feel of center, snapping the ball, worrying about other stuff I didn’t have to worry about (at left guard), but I got used to it,” Umana said of the challenges of his first start at center.
Nick Ford headlines the spring two-deep at left guard. Ford started five games at left guard a season ago.
Paul Toala is the top right guard in the spring. Toala didn’t start a game last year, but appeared in seven games.
Mo Unutoa, who appeared in one game in 2018, tops the spring depth chart at right tackle.
Behind Paulo at left tackle on the spring depth chart is redshirt freshman Simi Moala, behind Ford at left guard is freshman Johnny Maea, and behind Umana at center is senior Kyle Lanterman, one of five returning O-line lettermen (Paulo, Umana, Toala and Ford).
Lanterman found out he was on scholarship at practice on Feb. 28 when he got a phone call from his mom, who broke the news that he was officially on scholarship.
“It was awesome. He’s a guy that’s done everything you ask to do in the program, just is exactly what this program is all about. Smart, tough guy and it was awesome to be able to see that and then, more importantly, how his teammates responded. You can definitely see how much he’s appreciated in the program,” Harding said.
Behind Toala at right guard is redshirt freshman Paul Maile and behind Unutoa at right tackle is redshirt freshman Paul Maile.
“We definitely are going to be low in terms of experience, but I think we have some talented young guys. The guys that have played have got to play better and not complacent, just because they’ve played before,” Harding said.