Utah football: O-line making a good impression for Utes
Utah's offensive line has ben under intense scrutiny this spring, with good reason after the 2012 season in which the Utes struggled to gel together and injuries depleted an already thin group.
So far, the Utes are encouraged by what they see.
The Utes have about 18 healthy offensive linemen in camp, with seven or eight ready to play now, offensive line coach Dan Finn said. He wants that number to at least 10, but believes the Utes will be there in the fall.
"We are heads and shoulders above where we were," he said. "We have a lot more depth and natural talent."
Left tackle Jeremiah Poutasi, left guard Jeremiah Tofaeono, center Vyncent Jones, right guard Junior Salt and right tackle Siaosi Aiono are the current starting five.
Of those, the Utes are particularly impressed with the way Aiono, a 6-foot-2, 305-pound sophomore, is developing.
"He is a young kid who is finally starting to figure it out," Finn said. "He has stepped up and learned a lot and is doing a great job. He will be fine out there."
Also having an impact is Andrew Albers, a 6-7, 310-pound junior college transfer.
"He gives us a lot of flexibility to move people around," Finn said.
Utah co-offensive coordinator Dennis Erickson said he has been impressed by Utah's linemen, calling it the "strength of the football team."
"We have seven or eight who can play and that is a tremendous advantage for us," he said.
Utah's latest depth chart features several moves initiated because of injuries.
Injuries have sidelined several starters, including Trevor Reilly (knee surgery recovery), Brian Blechen (tendinitis), and Nate Orchard (back surgery). Backups getting more reps are Thretton Palamo at left end, Hunter Dimick at right end and linebackers Jared Norris and Jacoby Hale.
Freshman Justin Thomas has been one of the surprises of camp and is listed ahead of JC transfer Davion Orphey at corner. At strong safety, Tyron Morris-Edwards is listed ahead of Quade Chappuis.
Whittingham has been extremely complimentary of Morris-Edwards during camp. He played in nine games last year and had 16 tackles, but looks to be a much bigger factor this year.
The Utes have also moved lineman Daniel Nielson from offense to defense.
With Star Lotulelei's permission, doctors have released details of the tests performed on the former tackle last week which showed he has normal heart function.
Tests at the NFL Combine revealed Lotulelei's left ventricle was pumping at only 44 percent efficiency, prompting some worries his NFL career could be in jeopardy.
However, doctors now believe the abnormality might have been caused by a virus, as a treadmill stress test, EKG monitoring and MRI performed on March 27 all showed he had "complete normalization of the heart muscle function."
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said Lotulelei was in "good spirits."
"That was the only red flag, and hopefully that has been put to rest," Whittingham said of the medical concerns.
Good and bad
The Utes had a good practice Tuesday, but Whittingham said the receivers continue to drop too many passes. Defensively, the Utes have scaled back some after too many missed assignments.
"We returned to basics and it has been much cleaner than it has been recently," he said.