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Matt Piper and Kyle Goon
Matt Piper and Kyle Goon cover University of Utah sports teams for The Salt Lake Tribune. Matt Piper is on twitter at @matthew_piper, Kyle Goon is on twitter at @kylegoon

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Utes's D-line a strength as always

Utah's defensive line took a hit when Joe Kruger opted to leave school early, but even his absence shouldn't prevent the line from being a strength for the Utes.

Nate Orchard and Trevor Reilly are slated to start at end with sophomore Jason Whittingham, who moved from linebacker during spring, as their main backup.

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Orchard has had some injury issues in the past but when he is healthy he is a formidable player and earned honorable mention all-Pac-12 honors after finishing his sophomore year with 8.5 tackles for loss.

Reilly is a speedy athletic end who missed spring ball while recuperating from knee surgery. He is healthy now and should be one of the best pass rushers in the league.

The Utes are young but solid at tackle with Tenny Palepoi (6-2, 300), Sese Ianu (6-2, 305), Viliseni Fauonuku (5-11, 285) and Stevie Tu'ikolovatu (6-1, 320) holding down the positions.

Tu'ikolovatu in particular has coach Kyle Whittingham excited. The freshman returned from a mission in time to be one of the biggest surprises of spring ball and in Whittingham's words is a "complete package," with athleticism, size and smarts.

The linebackers must have some players emerge as leaders since they are a young group with limited experience. Senior Brian Blechen is expected to start at stud linebacker and likely won't split time between that position and safety as he has in the past.

Others who will get a lot of playing time are V.J. Fehoko, LT Filiaga, Reshawn Hooker and Jacoby Hale.

All juniors or sophomores, the four combined for just 13 starts in 2012 as injuries wracked the group.

Despite the inexperience Whittingham believes in the group enough to have moved Jason Whittingham to defensive end rather than leaving him at linebacker.

Fehoko is known for his hard hitting style, but watch for Hale to possibly emerge as a leader of the group if he can stay healthy.

- Lya Wodraska



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