Nick Ford’s development as a redshirt freshman is improving the outlook for Utah’s offensive line, which returns four starters. Yet the need to determine the line’s top three reserves is coach Kyle Whittingham’s biggest concern after one week of preseason camp.
The Utes thought they had created more depth this summer by adding a lineman who once was banned from junior college football in California for injuring a referee. Bernard Schirmer voided his non-binding scholarship agreement with Utah, however, and signed with USC, Trojans coach Clay Helton announced Tuesday.
Still, Whittingham likes the work of Utah’s five offensive line starters, who showed improvement in pass protection in the segment of Wednesday’s practice open to the media. The issue is “making sure we come away with at least eight guys we feel good about,” Whittingham said. “Right now, we’re not there — close, but not there yet.”
Utah’s first-team offensive line includes tackles Jackson Barton and Darrin Paulo, guards Jordan Agasiva and Ford and center Lo Falemaka, Whittingham said this week. Sophomore guard Orlando Umana is pushing Ford, and junior Paul Toala and freshman Braeden Daniels are making good impressions.
Daniels has gained 30 pounds since arriving on campus about two months ago and now weighs 290, Whittingham said. Fourth-year junior Johnny Capra is also in the mix “if he can get physically straight,” Whittingham said.
Schirmer may have played his way into Utah’s rotation this season if he had followed through on the commitment he announced in late June. Because he signed after the traditional letter-of-intent period, he was not bound to the Utes. Whittingham said during the Pac-12 Media Day in July that he was “hopeful” about Schirmer’s arrival.
Schirmer subsequently changed his mind and joined USC's program, closer to home.
The lineman was arrested in September 2016 and charged with battery of a game official, stemming from an incident during his Mt. San Antonio College team’s contest at Ventura College. Schirmer apologized in a series of interviews and said he was hitting his helmet in an effort to calm himself after an argument with opposing players and unintentionally struck the official with his forearm.
The Southern California Football Association banned him for playing for five years and denied Mt. SAC's two appeals, although the criminal charges were dropped.
“Still to this day, my opinion is it was just an accident,” Mt. SAC athletic director Joe Jennum said last month.
Speaking to reporters Tuesday in Los Angeles, Helton said, "We learned from the administrators, counselors and coaches that we were dealing with a tremendous young man. A man that is a great student and a great person, and a guy that we had no question would be a great member of our Trojan family.”
Utah’s coaching staff also had researched Schirmer’s background and was comfortable recruiting him. The Utes guided him through the academic process and planned for him to join them last week. Schirmer is eligible to play this season; the Trojans will visit Rice-Eccles Stadium on Oct. 20.