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Utah football notes: No clear-cut starters at defensive tackle

First Published Aug 07 2014 03:25PM      Last Updated Aug 07 2014 04:17 pm

(Scott Sommerdorf | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham follows through on a golf shot as players react to it heading towards a group of spectators. The team held some sort of golf competition after Utah football practice with pads on the baseball field, Thursday, August 7, 2014.

When it comes to defensive tackle, disregard the depth chart.

At the moment, Seni Fauonuku and Sese Ianu are listed as the two center cogs of the Utes defensive line. But the reality, position coach Ilaisa Tuiaki said, is there’s as many as six or seven players he could start on Aug. 28, and just about all of them are in the mix for considerable playing time.

There’s the youth, which includes freshmen Filipo Mokofisi and Lowell Lotulelei, who have intrigue, and Sam Tevi and Clint Shepard check in with slightly more experience and a ton of strength. There isn’t very set hierarchy when it comes to first or second string.



"Out of those guys, we’ll continue to rotate them," Tuiaki said. "They’ll each get a chance to play with the ones and twos. We’ll see what they’ve got."

On Thursday, Shepard and Mokofisi were with the ones, while Fauonuku and Ianu worked with the twos. There were also reps for Tevi and Lotulelei — whose potential Utes coaches have compared glowingly to brother Carolina Panthers tackle Star — as well as sophomore Stevie Tu’ikolovatu who has recovered faster than expected from a foot injury.

Then there’s packages without any of them: Tuiaki has a handful of fronts with Nate Orchard, Jason Fanaika and other defensive ends shifting to the middle for a better pass-rushing punch.

"It’s tougher for inside guys to block those guys who are a little longer and athletic," he said. "Some packages, we want to get those guys inside to put a pressure on the quarterback."

Flexibility, it seems, reigns in the trenches.

***

Gaining ground » A day after Whittingham was critical of the offensive line on its first day in pads, Whittingham was impressed by the running game Thursday. Redshirt freshman Troy McCormick, junior Bubba Poole and junior Devontae Booker "all had their moments," he said.

"They had some creases there, which is great for the O, not so good for the D," Whittingham said. "Offensive line is doing a nice job."

Less sure was the pass protection, at least in the 20 minutes observed by the media at the Utes baseball practice field on Thursday. Both Travis Wilson and Kendal Thompson would’ve been in trouble if it were live play, and the bulk of their completions were short passes to the backs.

Marc Pouvave took snaps at right tackle Thursday and performed well, Whittingham said. He hopes to see separation among the bevy of players competing on the right side of the line so that Utah’s best five lineman have some time to gain cohesiveness before the end of fall camp.

Left tackle Jeremiah Poutasi wore a cast on his left arm but it’s merely a precaution due to a bruise, Whittingham said.

***

Range pains » In the first installment of what will apparently be known as the Camp Kyle Olympics, Utah’s players took turn hitting off a range mat Thursday, taking aim at a bucket about 80 yards away.

The bucket was the safest place to be.

The winner, if there was such a thing, was Australian punter Tom Hackett, who celebrated to a chorus of boos when the results were announced. Hackett upset near-scratch golfer Andy Phillips and also outdid his coach.

Whittingham, an avid golfer, missed wide right by about 40 yards.

"That was a very disappointing showing," he said. "... You can tell where I’ve been the last month. I haven’t been golfing, which is a good thing, I guess."

Utah went from the 4-3 to the "Fore!" defense during the exercise. Players lined up in a horseshoe around the range mat, and after one shank flew over his head, freshman safety Marcus Williams hopped off repeating "I almost died! I almost died!"

***

Highlight » Booker caught a Wilson screen pass and galloped 60-plus yards to the end zone. He was, of course, pursued somewhat halfheartedly in the no-tackle practice, but you get the feeling watching Booker that had contact come, he would have had the better of it. "He’s the hammer more often than the nail when there’s a collision," Whittingham said.

Standouts » Junior linebacker Jared Norris got in free on Thompson for a whistled sack. Thompson, in his defense, had zero options downfield due to stifling coverage from the defensive secondary.

Position spotlight » We’ve already heard about the new additions at wide receiver, but Whittingham said that "particularly Tim Patrick and Kaelin Clay" have caught on quickly. Freshman Kenric Young also had his best day yet Thursday, Whittingham said. Fellow freshman Raelon Singleton, who it was announced Wednesday would miss the season, will have surgery on his shoulder.

Quote of the day » "I thought it was our best practice, overall," said head coach Kyle Whittingham. "The tempo was really good, the energy, the competition. They were getting after each other, practicing the right way."

— Matthew Piper and Kyle Goon

mpiper@sltrib.com

kgoon@sltrib.com

Twitter: @matthew_piper

Twitter: @kylegoon

 

 

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