It has been a while since Jackson Barton has chatted up his road roommate from last season. The realization caught Utah’s odds-on starting left tackle by surprise when he registered how much time had passed since he and Garett Bolles talked shop.
“I should probably get on that,” Barton said. “Probably a wake-up call.”
Life moves pretty fast, even for the massive mighty blockers up front.
Barton has assumed the role vacated by his friend and former teammate, who in his one year at Utah played all 891 snaps in 13 games at left tackle. Bolles, a first-team All-Pac-12 selection from a year ago, was eventually taken No. 20 overall in the 2017 NFL draft by the Denver Broncos to be the future of their front line.
No pressure. Right?
“Like we always tell each other, it’s next man up,” Barton said. “Garett’s at the Broncos right now, I was the next person up. Just got to fill those shoes.”
Utah offensive lineman Jackson Barton
Height • 6-foot-7
Weight • 312 pounds
Position • Left tackle
Class • Redshirt junior
High School • Brighton
Huge shoes to fill • Barton is tabbed to replace former Utah left tackle and first-round NFL Draft pick Garett Bolles, who started every game and played every down during his one year with the Utes in 2016.
On an offensive line almost completely wiped out by graduation and the NFL, a relaxed, seamless transition to left tackle for Barton would be ideal for the Utes and senior quarterback Troy Williams. At 6-foot-7 and 312 pounds, the former Brighton High product, now a redshirt junior, is a prototype for the position, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said.
“He’s taking steps, I’ll tell you that,” Whittingham said of Barton. “He played his best football as a Ute in the spring and he has picked up where he left off this fall. He’s in great shape … it’s his time. He’s going to be a junior, he’s waited his turn, and now it is his turn.”
Barton played in all 13 games in 2016 as a special teamer, and played in six games on the offensive line, including starts against San Jose State and Arizona State. Utah’s fan base has long waited for Barton — once considered the top-ranking prep recruit in the state — to seize the position he seemed destined for.
Bolles committing to the Utes out of Snow College altered the timeline a bit.
“We end up having a kid come in where, everyone saw how talented [Bolles] was,” Utah offensive line coach Jim Harding said. “I think Jackson was ready to go last year, but we had a couple guys in there getting drafted. He’s going to step in, and I think he’s gotten better since last year.”
Barton knows the intricacies of the position, Harding said, and has worked extensively on his foot speed in the last year. But in Bolles, Utah fans — not to mention Pac-12 followers — saw a blueprint for what the anchor of the offensive line could be. Toss in Bolles’ ability to boss opposing defenders with ease, and it became clear those shoes, no matter who was set to step in, were going to be difficult to fill.
“We have all the confidence in the world in [Barton],” Harding said. “Obviously Garett was a special player and we were lucky to have him, but like I said, Jackson will do fine.”
The two left tackles and old roommates are currently in comparable situations: Trying to lock down the left side of a line. Barton is trying to follow in Bolles’ footsteps, while the former Ute is entrenched in a battle for a Week 1 starting gig in the NFL. On Monday morning, the Broncos released their preseason depth chart.
Listed No. 1 at left tackle was Bolles — like Barton was in Utah’s first and only depth chart released prior to the start of fall camp two weeks ago.
“He’s making millions right now, [but] there’s a time and point where you’ve got to make it your own game, too,” Barton said. “I can’t be Garett Bolles. I’m Jackson Barton. That’s who I’ve got to be.”