Last season, the offensive line for the University of Utah was shaky and inconsistent. There were changes in starters from game to game. Travis Wilson could rarely depend on protection from play to play, which contributed to the starting quarterback's 16 interceptions.
The big uglies up front have been a focus for Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham. He told the media in spring practice, "The end result has got to be getting the five best guys out there." Every week, day, and, seemingly, every play/rep, the Utes changed their combination on the offensive line. They tried to get a look at everyone in every position to narrow down their five.
Last week, the Utes released a preliminary depth chart for at least day one of fall camp. It can and will change by the middle of the first practice, but here’s where the Utes stand as of right now:
- Jeremiah Poutasi (6-6, 320, junior)
- Andrew Albers (6-7, 310, RS junior)
- Junior Salt (6-2, 315, senior)
- Hiva Lutui (6-1, 294, sophomore)
- Siaosi Aiono (6-2, 305, junior)
- Nick Nowakowski (6-1, 295, sophomore)
- Salesi Uhatafe (6-4, 315, RS freshman)
- Marc Pouvave (6-3, 302, senior)
- Isaac Asiata (6-4, 310, sophomore)
- J.J. Dielman (6-5, 295, sophomore)
Right now, Whittingham and offensive line coach Jim Harding have their line narrowed down to six guys in Poutasi, Salt, Aiono, Uhatafe, Asiata, and Dielman. At the end of the spring session, I would have added Andrew Albers as another to be highly considered. After those seven, there is a marked drop-off in talent at this point. The Utes certainly have other guys in the future’s pipeline like Jackson Barton, but I would only consider those seven to be game- and season-ready.
The left side was a priority this spring for Harding and Whittingham, it being Travis Wilson’s blind side. The three best lineman have been put as starters at center, left guard, and left tackle. If all continues as planned for the season, plan on the left side of the offensive line being solid and safe for Travis Wilson and the running backs.
The right side is more up for grabs at this point. Salesi Uhatafe is strong and talented, but he will be pressured by Pouvave and Albers. Andrew Albers looks like a mammoth on the field and would be a brick wall if he could master the right guard position. I expect the starting right guard position to be juggled around for at least a week in fall camp.
The right tackle spot was problematic last year, and I expect will be up for grabs as well this fall camp. Asiata and Dielman are both capable tackles, but each with some things to work on. I am higher on Asiata’s first step off the line, but I prefer Dielman’s side-to-side agility and speed. Neither have big issues being pushed around.
I imagine there will be an interesting battle on the right side of the line in the first days of fall camp. I wouldn’t be surprised to see any of the five guys in Pouvave, Albers, Dielman, Asiata, or Uhatafe at either of the two positions.
The one sure thing is that Coaches Harding and Whittingham better find their five quickly. They will need to gel and find a rhythm on the line if they hope to be bowl-bound.