When a defensive line loses their sack leader, one who lead the country in sacks, to the NFL, most would expect the following season to be a rebuilding year for that line. This is likely not the case for the Utah Utes. Despite losing Nate Orchard to graduation and the NFL, the Ute defensive line has the opportunity to be even better than last year.
Hunter Dimick will again be the dominant force at the defensive end position. He was not in the spotlight like Orchard last season, but Dimick quietly took down opposing quarterbacks 10 times last season. Dimick, who is only a junior, will no doubt be a focus of opposing offensive linemen this season, but will be able find his way into the offensive backfield quite often.
Jason Fanaika is done moving between linebacker and defensive end, and has found a permanent home at Orchard's vacated right end position. Fanaika's strength was well documented in the weight room. His 830 lb squat, and 495 bench press show the shear force that Utah has opposite Dimick. He could have a breakout senior campaign much like Orchard did last season.
Left tackle Lowell Lotulelei is picking right up where his brother Star left off. His play as a freshman had fans doing a double take, because No 93 looked very similar to No 92 from a couple years ago. Lotulelei has the opportunity to be even better during his sophomore year. If he can begin to garner the double teams like his elder brother had to deal with, that will free up teammates to get to the quarterback and running backs. If they don't double team him, he'll be the one in the offensive backfield.
Filipo Mokofisi will be the starter at right tackle, and has bulked up to 285 lbs to play that position. He'll have the opportunity to be more of a play maker in 2015. His namesake, his father of the same name, had a great career for the Utes. With the focus being more on the other members of the line, he should have an opportunity to make a name for himself.
The backups on the line tend to play a lot, as the defense likes to rotate their linemen in often, and there there will be ample opportunity to see a lot of of them coming off bench to have and make an impact on the game. Kylie Fitts, who liked Utah coming out of high school, finally found his way to the Utes after transferring from UCLA. Fitts will play at left end behind Dimick. Fitts didn't play a lot his freshman year for the Bruins, but the Utah coaches seem to like what the sophomore brings to the team.
Pita Taumoepenu played well last year, as he has only played competitive football for a couple years since moving from Tonga. Taumoepenu registered 5.5 sacks, with his speed giving him the opportunity to out maneuver opposing offensive linemen. He has a different skill set than his counterparts at the position, and his speed is a good change up for the right side of the line.
Viliseni Fauonuku has been a steady contributor for the Utes the past three seasons. He makes the most of his opportunity on the field. Seni can come in at DT without the Utes missing a beat.
Stevie Tu'ikolovatu takes up the most space on the line, weighing it at 320 lbs. He missed all of 2013 with a foot injury, but registered eight tackles last season. Stevie is behind Lotulelei, but will have the opportunity to make a name for himself in 2015 as he is position to get more time on the field.
Utah's defensive line is always good. Players often graduate on to the NFL, and there are a few on the line that will most likely do the same in the coming years. The defensive line will again be a strength for the Utes in 2015, and one that the opposition isn't looking forward to taking on.