After missing the start of practice to tend to some family reasons, Utah sophomore Nate Fakahafua is back on the field for the Utes.
Now, if the Utes can just keep him there the defensive line should be set.
The 6-foot-3, 250-pound Fakahafua is the leading hope for the starting role at left end, the one spot on Utah’s front defensive line that doesn’t have much depth or experience.
Fakahafua was a sort of a utility player for the Utes last year, seeing time at defensive end, linebacker and special teams.
He finished with just four tackles, but figures to have a much bigger impact this year as a starter.
He needs to, because behind him are even two more inexperienced players, junior Thretton Palamo and freshman Hunter Dimick.
Despite the lack of experience, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said he wasn’t too worried about the spot.
“Nate did get some reps for us last year and Niasi Leota did some good things in junior college so we aren’t starting completely from scratch,” he said. “It’s the area of least experience, but I’m not concerned.”
Easing any concerns is the improvement Palamo has made. Palamo, a former rugby player, started his football career as a running back but has made a nice transition to the defense.
“I think we’ve found his best spot,” Whittingham said. “It is very apparent he is comfortable with the defense.”
One of the surprises in camp has been safety Terrell Reese, Quade Chappuis’ backup at strong safety along with junior Michael Walker. Reese played in just seven games last year, seeing time mostly on special teams, but seems to have the edge over Walker right now as Whittingham said he has improved immensely.
“Right now Quade Chappuis would be the guy opposite Eric Rowe if we played today, but those others are going to get their opportunities,” Whittingham said.
Several Utes sat out Tuesday’s practice with what could be long-term injuries.
Starting right tackle Miles Mason is out with a boot on his left foot and fellow offensive lineman Vyncent Jones remains out with a pulled hamstring.
Whittingham said both players could be out two to three weeks.
“It gives a couple other guys an opportunity to get some reps and see what they can do,” he said.
Unfortunately, the Utes aren’t very deep along the offensive line. Freshman Daniel Nielson will see most of the time at right tackle in Mason’s absence since junior college transfer Carlos Lozano is still working down to playing weight.
The 6-foot-6, 385-pound Lozano has lost 25 pounds but still has a ways to go, according to Whittingham.
Receiver Anthony Denham remains sidelined with knee tendinitis and linebacker Reshawn Hooker remains out after suffering a concussion.
What we learned • Utah running back John White has improved in his blitz pickups and receiver Sean Fitzgerald had another strong day to keep himself in the group of top six receivers.
Who was missing • Offensive linemen Miles Mason and Vyncent Jones were sidelined with injuries.
What is up next • The Utes start two-a-days on Wednesday.