Utah football: Defensive linemen bring a new wrinkle to Utah's game
Utah defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake remembers the way former Ute Koa Misi could spin around offensive linemen and get into the backfield before quarterbacks could react.
He remembers and he yearned a bit for that element last year when the Utes were averaging just a little more than two sacks a game in 2011.
"He was a dynamic, versatile player who could do a lot for us," Sitake said.
Well, the yearning is over. If hunches are correct, the Utes could have not just one, but two and possibly three defensive ends who fit the playing style of Misi.
Defensive ends Trevor Reilly and Nate Fakahafua are known for their quickness while 6-foot-7, 280-pound Joe Kruger might not be the fastest guy on the team, but can cover a lot of ground.
Together they represent one of the most athletic groups the Utes have had at defensive end in years.
"Trevor, Nate, those guys are fast," Sitake said. "They're fast enough to play outside linebacker as well. It's going to let us do a lot of things."
Having quick defensive ends is great, but what adds to Utah's strength is the presence of solid interior linemen in Star Lotulelei and Dave Kruger. They are enough to contend with that opponents can't just focus on the ends.
"Most teams double-team Star, and Dave some too, so it's nice for us ends," Kruger said. "We get to go one-on-one almost every time and we can get in the backfield fast."
The Utes had just two sacks against Northern Colorado, but both Sitake and Reilly noted the Bears made a point to get rid of the ball quickly.
"We didn't see many five-step drops so the only thing you can try to do is bat the ball down," Sitake said. "I take that as a huge complement to us because if that is what you are doing, it takes away a lot of options and limits what you can do."
The Utes would love to have a similar influence on quarterbacks in the Pac-12. While those quarterbacks are noticeably a step up in talent, Fakahafua believes he and his teammates have a good chance of saying hello to them in a defensive sort of way.
"There are great quarterbacks in the Pac-12 but it's crucial we get to them, get them on the ground and bang them around a bit," Fakahafua said. "If you can get into their heads, it helps us a lot."
Fakahafua for one is relishing his role at left end. At 6-foot-3, 250-pounds, Fakahafua has added more than 45 pounds of muscle since he joined the Utes out of Highland H.S.
The weight hasn't slowed Fakahafua, who boasts a 4.74 in the 40-yard dash.
"I spend a lot of time working on my speed and quickness on my own and that has helped," Fakahafua said. "I still want to add more weight and keep it up there."
If the thoughts of Fakahafua barreling down on them doesn't scare quarterbacks, having Reilly or Kruger coming at them too should do the trick.
Reilly, who also plays linebacker, is one of the Utes' most athletic players. Like Fakahafua, he too took advantage of Utah's summer weight training program which put more emphasis than ever on speed drills.
"I'm getting old, I'm 24 so I have to work on that," he joked. "I feel like it's making a difference already so I'm happy with it."
A look at Utah's defensive ends
Nate Fakahafua, 6-3, 250, So. • One of the most athletic players on the team keeps getting bigger and better.
Trevor Reilly, 6-5, 245, Jr. • Will also see a lot of time at linebacker. Can also play right end.
Thretton Palamo, 6-2, 250, Jr. • Hitting people suits this former rugby player
Joe Kruger, 6-7, 290, Jr. • He's big, he's fast, he's a Kruger; need we say more?
Utah at Utah State
P Friday, 6 p.m.
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