Ask any Ute fan what the most consistent personnel group on the football team has been throughout the years and the answer you’re most likely to get is the defensive line. A group so incredibly steady most expect, not hope, will reload each year and never enter the dreaded “rebuilding mode”.
Utah has eight former defensive line players on NFL rosters, second in the Pac-12 to only USC with nine. The next closest? Oregon’s six and Cal’s five. It’s not a stretch to say Utah is in the drivers seat when it comes to putting defensive line talent into the league amongst other Pac-12 schools (note - the number would be nine for Utah, but Trevor Reilly is currently listed at linebacker despite lining up as a deadly defensive-end hybrid on the outside).
Replacing talent like that isn’t easy, but Utah has a stable of guys ready to step up and contribute this season. It won’t be a small task, however. In 2013 Utah’s d-line finished tied for eighth in the country with 39 sacks (Stanford was tops in the nation with 44 sacks but played two more games than the Utes did). This group also sent three players to NFL rosters with Tenny Palepoi, L.T. Tuipulotu, and Trevor Reilly now getting a chance to play on Sundays.
The 2014-15 defensive line group will need to be extra-special this year. They not only need to replace the departed talent, but they need to play well enough to help the groups behind them succeed. An injury-laden yet uber-talented linebacking crew could use solid d-line play, especially early in the year, and the young, inexperienced secondary will need extra help as the new faces at corner and safety get accustomed to the dynamics of high-powered Pac-12 offenses.
The Utes are slated to bring in some fresh faces and established producers. Here’s how the depth-chart looks, per the Utah coaches, for fall camp.
Fall Camp Depth Chart
Tidbits and Player Details:
Nate Orchard: Nate is poised to have a huge senior season. The former high school star wideout has found his place as a defensive end and is reaping the benefits of playing behind former Utes Kruger, Reilly, Finau, Shelby, and others. Nate was arguably the best football player throughout spring and could make some serious noise in the Pac-12 this year.
Jason Fanaika: When you ask around the UteSportsReport.com team “who can replace Trevor Reilly this year?” more often than not the name that comes up in Jason Fanaika. No one is saying the stats he will put up will mirror TR, but the versatility and talent are certainly there. You will see Fanaika all over the field this season, moving from inside to outside, left side to right, and if you believe what Jake Murphy recently said about Fanaika Utah fans will be happy to see him in Crimson rather than Aggie blue.
“He was the hardest player to block on the scout team last year. I’ve talked to some guys up there now who think he may be the best player on the whole defense. I don’t know if that’s true because they’ve got so many great guys there, but I think Jason Fanika is going to come out of nowhere and really make a lot of plays for the defense.”
Viliseni Fauonuku: A bit undersized at only 5’10”, but will be a huge contributor on the interior of the defensive line. Seni has a past that is well documented with ups and downs, but after earning a starting spot after spring camp we are all hoping his best days are ahead of him, both on and off the field. He deserves it.
Hunter Dimick: Watching spring practices and the spring game I would argue the person that looks like they have taken the biggest step forward is Hunter. He was quick off of the ball, lined up at both end positions, and made every offensive tackle he faced look slow and often times silly. It’s hard to believe he is only a sophomore, but if the progress made from last season is any indicator Hunter could be a big contributor this season. We may be seeing one of the next great Utah defensive linemen come to life before our very eyes.
Pita Taumoepenu: Roughly 75% of the starters were out for the spring game, and Pita was the beneficiary of that. Pita looked phenomenal (against non-starters) and recorded one sack, two tackles for loss and forced a fumble. Pita will get reps this season and though he’s a bit undersized, he goes and goes and goes (think Jacoby Hale circa 2013). Pita will likely be used to spell a few guys and be a fresh body on the field. But if some other guys play well early and the depth is there, a redshirt may not be a bad route for Pita to take.
Filipo Mokofisi: Filipo will see the field this season, but may be a year away from being a really special player. Despite this, he should still be a contributor and role-player on the d-line immediately. He has bloodlines and a solid pedigree that bode well for him, and for only being a freshman the future is awfully bright for the former Woods Cross star.
Jason Whittingham: An absolute stud at linebacker, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him line up at defensive end a-la Trevor Reilly last season. With the depth and talent Utah has at linebacker Utah will likely look to put as many of their best players on the field at the same time and one of those schemes may call for Jason to line up at DE.
Lowell Lotulelei: The last name says it all. Lowell has a chance to contribute and play immediately this fall should he show the work-rate and determination required to be a successful player at this level. Lowell has spent a lot of time recently shadowing his older brother which shouldn’t hurt his potential one bit.
Sese Ianu: Missed spring practices due to an injury but don’t be surprised if Sese isn’t starting against Idaho State. He's a popular guy to breakout amongst the UteSports.com team and I'm excited to see what he can do.
Sam Tevi: Rumors floated around that Sam would be making the switch to offensive line, but in 2014 he will contribute at defensive end. At 6’5” and 295 lbs he has room to get bigger and still keep his speed. Many may remember Tevi dominating against Weber State last year and hopefully that was a precursor of things to come.
Stevie Tu’ikolovatu: Stevie is down about 30 pounds from last season and looking to get a chance to contribute this year. He has worked hard since his injury and is back on scholarship. Be on the lookout for his name to pop up at fall practices because he’s a guy who could make some noise.
Fall Camp Preview: Defensive Line
Ute Zone Top Stories
Utes make big impression on Texas wideoutAfter visiting Salt Lake City, three-star wide receiver Tyquez Hampton took some time to talk to UteZone about his thoughts on the Utes.
Ute ZoneYesterday at 4:18 PM
Shah, Jr. relishes the family legacyFor linebacker Sharrieff Shah, Jr., the opportunity to carry on a legacy was too much to pass up.
Ute ZoneMonday at 11:41 PM
Film Room: Utah vs. USCUteZone breaks down the biggest plays in Utah's win over USC.
Ute ZoneMonday at 11:16 PM
UteZone Roundtable: 9/25The UteZone staff talks about Utah's big win over USC, what we've seen from the Utes so far this year and what to expect against Cal.
Ute ZoneSunday at 8:50 PM