Utah’s veteran offensive line will be counted on to steady things while new QB — whoever he is — finds his footing

Utah running back Zack Moss (2) celebrates with teammate Nick Ford, left, after scoring against Idaho State in the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

If one views the lack of returning production at quarterback and running back as bad news at the University of Utah, the amount of returning production along the offensive line can’t be looked at as anything other than good news.

All told, the Utes are slated to return 77% of the offensive line starts from last season’s 11-3, Pac-12 South winner. It now comes down to a matter of what offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig and offensive line coach Jim Harding are going to do with the personnel.

Redshirt junior Nick Ford is the offensive line’s most-versatile piece. He started the 2019 season opener at BYU at right tackle, then started the final 13 games at right guard. Where Ford plays in 2020 may be up for some debate, but in the three spring practices Utah got in before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Ford was seeing reps at left tackle.

Ford can play at any of the five offensive line spots, but a move to the hole at left tackle and protecting Jake Bentley’s or Cameron Rising’s blindside would make some sense given Ford’s experience and proven ability to adjust to new positions. Ford’s 25 career games and 21 career starters are both second among offensive lineman next to senior Orlando Umana.

Umana is entrenched at center. As a junior in 2019, Umana started 12 games at center, missing the other two due to injury, on his way to All-Pac-12 honorable mention honors. The year before, he played in all 14 games, starting the last nine at center.

Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune Utes wide receiver Samson Nacua (45) celebrates his touchdown with Utes tight end Brant Kuithe (80) and Utes offensive lineman Orlando Umana (50) as the University of Utah hosts the Arizona Wildcats at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, Friday Oct. 12, 2018. Utah leads 28-0.

Redshirt sophomore Braedan Daniels started all 14 games at left guard last season, while classmate Simi Moala started 12 at right tackle.

Assuming Ford, Umana, Daniels and Moala as starters somewhere along the line, the fifth spot is up for grabs.

Highly-touted junior college lineman Bamidele Olaseni arrived last fall, but played in only two games and took a redshirt after it was determined in September he only had one year of Division I eligibility. Olaseni was listed on the spring depth chart at right tackle.

If the 6-foot-7, 332-pound London native can step forward and claim either tackle spot, potential scenarios as a result include Moala taking the other tackle spot and Ford staying at right guard.

Redshirt freshman Keaton Bills, who played in three games last season, is a threat to crack the two-deep, as is Johnny Maea, who will be a sophomore. In 2019, Maea started the opener at right guard, then dealt with injuries in playing in only nine games.