Spring Preview: Offensive Line

After a disappointing 2013 campaign, the Utah offensive line look to rebound with a strong showing this spring

The Contenders

Siaosi Aiono
Aiono is a solid lineman, but wasn't positioned correctly under former offensive line coach Dan Finn as a right tackle. Osi (as he's called) is a smart and tough player and will transition from right tackle over to the center spot, replacing Vyncent Jones. With Jones' departure, Aiono has the chance to seize leadership of the line, making the pre-snap calls formerly done by Vyncent. Aiono has the potential to become a darkhorse all conference performer in his two remaining seasons with the Utes.

Andrew Albers
Albers is long at 6'7 and 310 pounds but doesn't have the body of a prototypical left tackle...yet. Whittingham had high praise for Albers last spring and fall while protecting him as a redshirt in 2013. Will 2014 be his coming out party? Tough to say, but he will certainly be in the mix as the Utes look for a cornerstone at the left tackle position. Did Albers use his redshirt season to prepare his mind and body for his current opportunities? Look for Albers to get a ton of reps and be a leading contender at left tackle.

Isaac Asiata
As a redshirt freshman just off an LDS mission, Isaac found himself in position as strong backup to Siaosi Aiono at the right tackle position and end up starting the Ute's final three games. Asiata has a bright future with the Utes and will likely move to the guard spot as a sophomore which might be a better for spot considering his size and speed. Asiata has plenty of upside and the right type of mean streak needed to be an effective BCS level lineman.

Jackson Barton
Barton showed up on campus and has been a complete beast during off-season conditioning. How will that translate when the pads go on and he'll be tasked to move players who are faster, stronger and bigger than he has ever faced? Sometimes it's a tough transition for a true freshman as he may look lost at times, but he's got the attitude and dedication to be a quick learner as he adjusts to the college game. Will he make it onto the two deep or redshirt this season? If his strength and conditioning is any indication, he could find himself in the mix this season.

J.J. Dielman
Looking for a darkhorse in this group? Look no further to J.J. Dielman who is considered to be a very smart and tough player, though undersized at 6'4 and 275 pound. He is an athletic offensive lineman that can play at either the tackle or center position and may have the right measurements to fit into Dave Christensen's offensive scheme. Without a doubt, he'll have his opportunities to get out for of the shadows of those ahead of him, but he's got a lot of ground to make up get a shot this season.

Lo Falemaka
Falemaka is a talented local product who redshirted last season and now looks to make an impression as a tackle or guard. It's still early for Falemaka, as 2015 will likely be his year for a realistic shot to contribute on the field.

Kala Friel
This former walk-on earned a scholarship after returning from an LDS mission and has good size at 6'4 and 310 pounds and last season he made it on the field only once as the Utes annihilated the Weber State Wildcats. Friel's priority this spring? Get noticed by new offensive line coach Jim Harding and demonstrate he has the skills, desire and ability to get on the two-deep. Because he's surrounded by up-and-coming talent, it could be tough for Friel to land on the depth chart this season.

Hiva Lutui
Hiva had limited participation last year with some mop up time against Weber St. Coming into spring camp, Lutui has a shot assert himself as a starter at the center sport, but likely will be solidifying himself as the backup center to Aiono.

Nick Nowakowski
Nowakowski is a player that has been mentioned several times by Whittingham as a player who has made some pretty big strides. Is Nick the next "big thing" for Utah's offensive line? Well, maybe the there's a bit too much hype going on there, but he's a strong guy who could break a few strength records including Robert Conley's squat record of 700 lbs. Nowakowski is a great walk-on find and has a solid chance making it into a two deep spot but not a likely starter going into week one. Utah insiders have told me that several former Utes who are "on their way to the NFL" have sworn up and down that Nick is Utah's best offensive lineman. We shall see.

Jeremiah Poutasi
Expectations were off the charts for Poutasi who entered the season 25 points overweight and was humbled at times as he faced NFL talent on a weekly basis. Too much too soon for the sophomore? Probably, but you can't teach the speed, size and talent possessed by Poutasi and now it's up to him to have the hunger and desire to be great. Look to see Jeremiah move inside as a guard or to the other side of the line as a right tackle where he has a chance to redeem himself and get his NFL aspirations back on track.

Marc Pouvave
Marc was a solid get two years ago and a strong candidate for a starting position in 2012 before being injured and sidelined for the entire season. Pouvave is a massive man, but struggles moving laterally and staying healthy. As a senior, look for Pouvave to fit somewhere in the Utes 2 deep roster.

Junior Salt
Salt made the transition from the defensive line and started as an offensive guard in 2013. Salt, is a man among boys and blocks with a mean streak when assignment sound. On film he can look like a beast at times and in other situations he looks completely lost. For Salt, it's all mental at this point as he's got the size, speed and strength do just about anything he wants. Will a new offensive line coach in Jim Harding improve this situation? Perhaps. With a year of experience at the position and another spring and fall camp to prepare, Salt will likely be an anchor on the line...if he's not moved back to the defensive line. No breaking news here, but with a new staff and holes to on the defensive line, anything is possible.

Projected Depth Chart Going Into Spring

Left Tackle
Andrew Albers
Jackson Barton

Left Guard
Jeremiah Poutasi
Marc Pouvave

Center
Siaosi Aiono
Hiva Lutui

Right Guard
Junior Salt
J.J. Dielman

Right Tackle
Isaac Asiata
Nick Nowakowski

What needs to happen
The Ute's offensive line clearly underperformed last season for a variety of reasons including overweight starters, players playing in wrong spot, plenty of missed assignments and numerous miscommunications between the group. We they terrible? At times, but when Utah was victorious, decent to good line play was a key factor in the win. With the departures of Vyncent Jones and Jeremiah Tofaeono, it's critical that new offensive line coach Jim Harding finds "his guys" and get his players into set spots so this group can learn to work as a cohesive unit. Replacing Vyncent Jones' line calls and leadership will be critical as well. He may not be a natural leader, but Aiono will have his chances and he needs to step up into that role. With a new offense and new offensive coaches, the boys in the trenches have no time to waste during spring camp as they need every second and rep to figure out who they are, where they'll play and transform into a line that can effectively protect the quarterback.

Projected Starters Coming Out of Spring

Left Tackle
Andrew Albers

Left Guard
Jeremiah Poutasi

Center
Siaosi Aiono

Right Guard
Junior Salt

Right Tackle
Isaac Asiata

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