Utah football: Utes will be smaller, but quicker at defensive end
Trevor Reilly appears poised to have the best season of his career. The Utah senior has been a standout through the first five days of fall camp, exploding off the edge and making plays in the offensive backfield.
Nate Orchard's new body accompanies his new name (previously Fakahafua). The junior, who once dominated high school football at Highland, is no longer a slim underclassman. He's 255 pounds, with muscles popping out of his upper body. The narrative is different for him now. He has to produce.
These two are Utah's primary defensive ends, two pillars in an otherwise rocky position that has been decimated by early loss to the NFL and by tragedy.
"We know that we have to be good and that we have to lead," Reilly said. "It's our time, and I think me and Nate are ready to go out there and show how good we can be."
Utah better hope so. Gone is Joe Kruger, who took his talents to the NFL a year early. He would have been one of the best pass-rushers in the Pac-12 had he stayed around for another season. Gone is much of the depth at the position as well. What the Utes have now are three players they can count on, and the onus to find a few more that can contribute in the next three weeks leading up to the season opener against Utah State.
This season brings a shift in philosophy, as defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake has decided to go smaller and faster from the edge. Reilly has played much of his career at outside linebacker, but will slide down. Jason Whittingham will do the same thing.
The hope is that a smaller and quicker defensive end position will be able to put more pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The fear is that a smaller line will be susceptible against the run. And that's where defensive tackles like Tenny Palepoi have to come up big.
"I thought we were good against the run last year, but we have to be a much better team rushing the passer," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "We have to be able to rush the passer without having to send linebackers. If we can do that, it will help our defense out a bunch."
Orchard has always had the look of an elite pass-rusher. And last year, he showed flashes of brilliance at times. But his inconsistency could be maddening. For the first time in his career, the spotlight will be his. Kruger and Star Lotulelei are gone. Dave Kruger has graduated. Orchard must carry the torch.
U.'s defensive ends
• Trevor Reilly and Nate Orchard will be the starters.
• Jason Whittingham will contribute heavily at the position.
• Utah will be smaller and faster off the edge.
• Orchard changed his name from Fakahafua in the offseason.
Who's hot • Offensive coordinator Dennis Erickson gave Travis Wilson his strongest endorsement of the season, all but anointing him the starting quarterback when asked if there was room for movement on the depth chart. Erickson said Wilson has had the best fall camp.
Who's not • Utah's defense found itself worn out by the frenetic pace of the new offense and it showed significantly in the scrimmage portion of Saturday's practice.
Injury report • Offensive lineman Jeremiah Poutasi was in the pit on Saturday with a sore back. Cornerback Davion Orphey suffered a hip flexor.