The math makes sense. Going into the 2017 football season, Utah had to replace four starters on the offensive line. This year, the Utes had only one vacancy in the starting lineup.
The outcome of that position duel between redshirt freshman Nick Ford and sophomore Orlando Umana officially remains undecided, with Thursday night’s season opener vs. Weber State approaching. Both of them are likely to play considerably, as the competition continues.
The next question is whether the line can do a better job of pass protection in 2018, after a season when the Utes finished near the bottom of the FBS by allowing 39 sacks in 13 games.
That performance was disappointing, after line coach Jim Harding was establishing himself as one of the Utes' most valuable assistants. Harding had four players from his 2016 line make NFL opening-day rosters last season and it was natural to expect him to develop another solid group.
This is the sixth installment in a series during August about Utah’s position groups. Today: the offensive line.
But that didn’t happen right away. Even with mobile quarterbacks Tyler Huntley and Troy Williams, the Utes were vulnerable to opposing pass rushers. By giving up three sacks per game, Utah tied for 118th in the country.
The consolation was that the line paved the way for running back Zack Moss to gain 1,173 yards. He's expected to be even more productive as a junior, with a veteran group in front of him.
Experience might be more important for offensive linemen than any other position group, and the coaches seem comfortable with this lineup: senior Jackson Barton and junior Darrin Paulo at tackle, senior Jordan Agasiva and Ford/Umana at guard and senior co-captain Lo Falemaka at center.
Barton has appeared in all 39 games during his first three seasons at Utah, with 15 starts. Falemaka and Paulo each started 13 games last season.
It may be concerning that true freshmen Braeden Daniels and Simi Moala are listed No. 2 at the tackle spots, but there's a further explanation: Ford is really the No. 3 tackle overall, and would replace Barton or Paulo if necessary, with Umana becoming the No. 1 left guard. Daniels has emerged as a player to watch in coming years, with a strong showing in preseason practice.
The offensive line depth chart is more nuanced than at other positions, with players trained to play multiple spots.