For the first time in years, Utah will enter a season without a sure-fire top NFL draft pick on their defensive line. Yes, Nate Orchard is a tremendous player, but inconsistencies have kept him from fulfilling the potential so many can clearly see.
Orchard had a good spring, but going against this offensive line wasn't fair at times. Orchard didn't participate fully, with the coaches wanting to keep him injury free, but looked like the same old Nate; showing off athleticism and getting into the backfield consistently. Will it translate into a double digit sack season in 2014? The Utah coaches are hoping so.
We're taking transfers from Utah State and now they're starting? The early sentiment from Utah fans was warranted on paper, but not when you got a chance to see what the versatile Jason Fanaika could do. Fanaika spent most of the spring inside as a DT, and despite being a bit undersized, was arguably the Utes' best defensive lineman in camp. He's as strong as an ox and a heady player. You'll see Fanaika on the field a ton in 2014.
Hunter Dimick is really starting to grow into his own. After a productive season in 2013 as a backup, Dimick is holding down a starting spot and looks like Utah's most complete defensive lineman. He's very instinctive, gets into the backfield very well for someone his size, and plays the pass better than any defensive lineman on the team. Matchups between him and guys like Albers and Asiata were often wins for Dimick. Should be able to hit 5 sacks and 15 tackles for loss in 2014.
Pita Taumoepenu hates quarterbacks They're going to hate him. If there is one guy on this team that made a giant leap forward this spring it was Pita T, who looks to have honed his natural athleticism into what will be a pass rushing terror this season. With tremendous speed and ridiculously violent hands, the sophomore-to-be is going to be that situational third down pass rusher that Utah had in Jacoby Hale last season.....only better. There's no ceiling to what this guy can do with more seasoning and reps.
Filipo Mokofisi made a big move in spring vaulting to a starting position at defensive tackle. That will be short-lived when everyone returns from injury, but Mokofisi looks like he could eventually be a Jason Fanaika clone as a DE/DT that can play either spot. Still a bit undersized at DT, there's plenty of time for him to add weight and grow into a 285-290 pounder if that's the direction the coaches want him to go. There's talent, but it's still developing, as we saw in the spring.
Daniel Nielson has a surprisingly good spring, showing that he can be that big nose guard in the middle when the Utes want to clog that line. He's trimmed down a bit, but still has plenty of bulk to be a situational run stopper.
Seni Fauonuku missed the first couple of practices, but returned to give the Utes a boost at defensive tackle. Seni's never going to be an all-conference type of guy, but he showed more of an ability to play the run straight up and clog a hole than in the past. The junior-to-be is still deceptively fast with a quick first step that allows him to get into the backfield, but his game looked more complete this spring than last season.
Greg Reese made the move from tight end during camp and made a moderate impact showing some ability to rush the passer. Reese is a good athlete, but only has a senior season to learn the position at the collegiate level. A redshirt year could be possible, but giving him the reps and having him move on to free up that scholarship may be another option.
Alani Havili-Katoa physically looks the part already as an early enrollee, but the technique and understanding is still a work in progress. Due to depth issues he picked up needed reps, but didn't make much of an impact. Redshirt season is close to a certainty.
Utah will be able to restock that defensive line come fall when a multitude of players come out of the training room, off of missions, or enroll for the first time. Sam Tevi, Stevie Tu'ikolvatu, Harvey Langi, Pasoni Tasini, Moana Ofahengaue, Sese Ianu, and Lowell Lotulelei should make this a fairly deep group in terms of bodies. They'll just need to find some high impact players.
Spring Defensive Line Position Rankings
1. Nate Orchard
2. Jason Fanaika
3. Hunter Dimick
4. Pita Taumoepenu
5. Seni Fauonuku
6. Filipo Mokofisi
7. Daniel Nielson
8. Alani Havili-Katoa
9. Greg Reese
Spring Review: Defensive Line
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