With Nick Ford anchoring, Utah football’s veteran offensive line expected to be a major strength

(Photo courtesy of Utah Athletics) Utah offensive lineman Nick Ford (55) goes against defensive lineman Mika Tafua during fall camp

There is no doubt that Nick Ford is one of the University of Utah’s five-best offensive linemen.

So said Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham earlier this week on a Zoom call with reporters, which indicates that Ford, an All-Pac-12 honorable-mention last fall as a redshirt sophomore, is a mortal lock to start along the offensive line when the Utes open Nov. 7 vs. Arizona at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

As fall camp rolls through its first full week with a live scrimmage coming on Saturday, there is some debate as to which offensive line spot Ford ultimately takes. That uncertainty is not a knock, but rather a testament to his versatility.

Ford was All-Pac-12 a year ago after starting the opener vs. BYU at right tackle, then playing the other 13 games at right guard. As a redshirt freshman in 2018, he started seven times in 11 games, six at left guard and one at right tackle. There was also a brief cameo that season at center.

Now, Ford is the projected starter at left tackle for an offensive line that is expected to be a major strength for Utah.

“That’s a good question and one that we do not have an answer to at this point in time,” Whittingham said on Monday in regards to whether or not Ford might kick back inside at some point," Right now, he is working outside more so than inside. Bottom line is, we’ll get the five best out there, just like we talk about every year, and whatever the best combination with those five guys is, that’s what we’re going to do."

Whittingham and offensive line coach Jim Harding know they can move Ford around if necessary, but a lot of that will depend on the rest of the offensive line and how things continue to progress.

“As it sits today, he will be playing left tackle,” Harding said Monday. “However, the development of those younger tackles could potentially move him back inside, but at the same time, I think he gives us some stability out there. I think he’s got a lot of ability at left tackle and if I were to guess right now, I think that’s probably where he’ll end up staying.”

There is optimism with this offensive line, simply because the top of the unit is mostly veteran-heavy. Senior Orlando Umana is entrenched at center, having started there 21 times as part of 39 career games, while Braeden Daniels started all 14 games last season at left guard as a redshirt freshman.

Simi Moala was another All-Pac-12 honorable-mention selection last season at right tackle as a redshirt freshman, but the most intrigue along Utah’s offensive line might be at right guard.

Sophomore Johnny Maea played in nine games, but only started one, while former JUCO All-American Bam Olaseni should figure into the mix as a senior. Olaseni, a 6-foot-7, 335-pound London native, played in only two games last season, preserving his redshirt.

“There are some things he naturally can do well,” Harding said. “I would like him to play more consistent in terms of his speed off the ball, his overall understanding of the concepts, but there is a tremendous amount of improvement.”