With two all conference linemen moving on the the NFL a new offense being installed, and a new coach at the position, the Utah offensive line figured to struggle at first in spring ball until they found the right five starters. But struggle might be an understatement as an injury to projected starter Sam Brenner and inconsistencies led to a poor showing for much of the spring.
Gone were center Zane Taylor and left guard Caleb Schlauderaff. Over to center from right guard went Tevita Stevens. Still in place were tackles Tony Bergstrom and John Cullen. With seniors Cullen and Bergstrom in place at arguably the two most important spots on the line, the Utes figured to be able to get by until an influx of JC players arrived in the fall, but that didn't happen.
First Brenner went down early in spring and missed most of the contact drills. Then highly touted freshman Zac Bolton went down and was forced to take a medical retirement. An already thin group just kept getting thinner and it showed in their play.
The pass protection can only be describe as mediocre at best. Even tackles John Cullen and Tony Bergstrom weren't at their best, getting beaten by rushing ends more often than you'd like from a pair of seasoned seniors. Two inexperienced quarterbacks under center didn't help their cause, but the return of Jordan Wynn will only make things easier in the fall.
The running game and run blocking was significantly better, as the offensive line showed their athleticism at times with downfield blocking. The backs benefitted from a line that can be pretty nasty at times, and seems to enjoy the run blocking more than the pass blocking.
The Utes were able to find two true freshmen lineman that look like they'll be a big part of line for years to come as Isaac Asiata lived up to the hype and as the backup at the right guard spot coming out of spring, and mammoth tackle Daniel Nielsen locked down the backup spot behind Tony Bergstrom at right tackle. The right side of the line of the future is there. While Asiata had his ups and downs throughout camp with false starts and a few holding penalties, he showed his abilities as one of the anchors of the line of the future. We said it before camp and we'll say it again, he gets downfield very well for a true freshman. Nielsen is huge. If he can hone his technique and show some nasty, the Utes will have a real find in the true freshman. While I'm no convinced he holds on to the second spot in the two deep once fall camp starts, he'll provide needed depth and will be an impact player by 2012.
John Cullen held down his spot at left tackle and won't be challenged in that spot at any point. Kapua Sai looked like he'll be able to step in and perform admirably, but isn't nearly the player that Cullen is at the moment. Sai does have a pretty high ceiling though and a season with more on the field reps will do wonders as he looks to take over the job in 2012.
The left guard spot turned out to be more of a battle than most anticipated with Sam Brenner going down. If healthy, Brenner will be your starter, but that's a big if, and Percy Tuamoelau, Jeremiah Tofaeono or Isaac Asiata could all see time there if Brenner's health falters.
Tevita Stevens wasn't as impressive at the center spot in camp as I thought he would be. There's a learning curve when moving to a new position, but there were a few struggles with the center-QB exchange and the interior of the line did get beat often. Stevens did step up and take more of a vocal role with the line though and was often pointing out the assignments for other players. A full offseason of work at the center position and he should be good to go by September. Vyncent Jones provided backup at the center spot, but is at least two years away from being much of a contributor.
Percy Tuamoelau is holding down fort at right guard for now, but could get a strong push in the fall from Tofaeono and Asiata or any of the incoming JC recruits. Tuamoelau has a tremendous upside, but didn't have a great camp. He' was beaten often and wasn't getting a strong push downfield. The more reps he gets with the ones though, the better he'll be.
At right tackle is arguably the Utes best lineman in Tony Bergstrom. Bergstrom had a decent camp and spent a lot of time after practice working with the younger players. Despite the struggles of the line throughout the spring, Bergstrom will be fine and arguably the Utes best offensive player in 2011. Daniel Nielsen is backing him up right now, but I think Kapua Sai is the best backup tackle on this team and will be the first off the bench at both right and left tackle.
Two things need to happen for the offensive line to be successful: develop three more reliable offensive lineman outside of the big four of Stevens, Brenner, Cullen, and Bergstrom, and keep Cullen and Bergstrom healthy. If either Cullen or Berstrom go down and miss any time, the Utes will struggle to win more than 6 or 7 games. Those two are that important to the offense and the team.
This unit is going to be about a million times better by the end of fall camp than they are right now. With the addition of a few JC transfers scheduled to arrive in the summer, the added depth will help increase the level of competition. If it isn't, this team will struggle offensively.
Overall Spring Camp Position Grade: D+
Inside the Utes Projected Depth Chart:
Spring Recap- Offensive Line
Ute Zone Top Stories
Utes offer 2018 Cali QBThe Utes extended an offer to a 2018 QB out of Fresno. Here's what he thinks of the offer
Ute ZoneYesterday at 9:45 PM
Game preview: Utah defense vs. Cal offenseJames Durrant breaks down what to expect when Utah's defensive and special teams units are on the field
Ute ZoneYesterday at 5:18 PM
Richardson considers becoming "Hometown Hero"The top offensive tackle in the state of Utah is looking hard at the hometown Utes. Could a commitment be in his future?
Ute ZoneThursday at 8:45 PM
Game Matchups: Utah Offense vs Cal DefenseThe Utah offense should be able to have a field day against a porous Cal defense
Ute ZoneThursday at 10:08 AM