Hunter Dimick(R Jr.)
Seni Fauonuku(R Sr.)
Stevie Tuikolovatu(R Jr.)
Clint Shepard(R Sr.)
Filipo Mokofisi(R So.)
Jason Fanaika(R Sr.)
Kylie Fitts(R Jr.)
Allan Havili-Katoa(R Fr.)
Dimick had a breakout season as a redshirt sophomore, totaling 10 sacks and 14.5 TFL's playing opposite of Nate Orchard. At times, Dimick looked to be as good or better than Orchard last season, and seemed to set up a bunch of sacks that Orchard was able to finish on. Dimick's first step off the line is up there with the best in the country, and another off season of conditioning and lifting should only make him that much more explosive in 2015.
It can't be easy trying to live up to expectations that may be placed on you when you're the brother of a Ute legend (Star Lotulelei), but if Lowell can learn and improve on what was a successful true freshman season, than he may become a Ute legend himself. Lotulelei started 8 of 13 games in 2014 and finished the year with 4 sacks and 4.5 TFL's. Not bad for a true freshman defensive tackle, whose best attribute is his first step and ability to take on blockers with out giving up any ground. Sounds a bit familiar doesn't it? Barring injury, Lotulelei should start all 12-13 games in 2015, and continue to step out from behind older brother's shadow.
Fanaika was Mr. Versatility for the Utes defense in 2014, as he lined up at defensive end, defensive tackle and linebacker at points in the season. Fanaika isn't a quick twitch defensive end, or overpowering one, but he has a good blend of both traits and a relentless motor. He isn't likely to explode for 15 sacks in 2015, but 6-8 sacks, double digit TFL's and non stop effort on every play are reasonable expectations for the senior in 2015.
One of the biggest question marks on defense in 2015 for Utah is what they're going to get from UCLA transfer Kylie Fitts. Fitts originally committed to USC in 2013, before committing to UCLA over Utah on Signing Day. After playing one season as a Bruin, Fitts explored his transfer options and landed in Salt Lake City. As a true freshman, Fitts only tallied 1 total tackle, but was playing in a back up role. After sitting out 2014 and losing a year of elibility, Fitts will look to etch out a starting spot somewhere on the defensive line, as he has the versatility and size to play both end and tackle.
We finally got to see Stevie T in action last season, as he had spent the past couple season redshirting and recovering from foot surgery. Stevie T is an old school defensive tackle whose sole responsibility is to eat up blocks and free up defenders. He's got a wide frame and powerful legs, and is easily able to take on double teams without giving up much ground. Another off season to strengthen the previously injured foot, as well as get his body in better shape should yield good results for the junior, as he fights for a starting spot in the defensive tackle rotation.
Of all the high school signees from the 2015 recruiting class, Hart is likely the most college ready prospect of the bunch. The St. Thomas Aquinas High School standout was a force off the edge as he was able to just overpower and outrun high school offensive tackles. Hart is tad bit undersized for a defensive end, 6'2-240lbs, but should be able to add another 10-15 pounds over his college career, which will only make him more powerful. He isn't the quick twitch, pass rushing defensive end that Utah was looking for to replace Nate Orchard, but he will be force in the run game from his defensive end spot.
The Other Candidates
Fauonuku has been the small wrecking ball on the Ute defensive line the past 3 seasons, as the 5'11-285lb defensive tackle has flashed his strength and quickness at times, while also completely disappearing at other points in the past 3 seasons. At this point in his career, Fauonuku has become a good rotational defensive tackle, but isn't likely to "start" more than a handful of games in 2015
Shepard, one of the hardest workers on the team, was awarded a scholarship at the beginning of Fall Camp in 2014 and earned a starting spot at the beginning of the season, but had his season cut short due to an injury in the 3rd game. The injury didn't sideline him for the whole season, but he never seemed to be fully healed, and by the time he did return to action, he saw his starting spot taken by freshman Lowell Lotulelei. With an off season to bulk up and get fully healthy, Shepard will look to occupy the starting spot next to Lotulelei, but will have to beat out a trio of what some may consider more talented players.
Mokofisi may be the player that benefits the most from another off season of strength training, as the redshirt sophomore played a lot in 2014 as an underweight defensive tackle. Mokofisi is very quick off the line and is more of a pass rushing threat from the interior than other defensive tackles, but still needs to add more strength and mass, so that he can become an every down defensive tackle. If he can add that needed strength and weight, there's no reason why he can't occupy a starting spot alongside another sophomore standout.
Despite his size, Taumoepenu proved himself last season to be a force off the edge (5.5 sacks, 5.5 TFL's in 2014), as he simply has too much speed for most offensive tackles to handle. Just 6'1-230lbs, Pita has a quick first step that is hard to get in front of. He's also very strong for his size, but is able to be pushed around by quicker offensive tackles, due to how much he gives up in size difference. He'll be a mainstay on the Ute defense on third downs, but isn't likely to become an every down defensive end like Dimick or Orchard, as he can be too much of a liability in the run game.
Havili-Katoa was an early entree from the 2014 recruiting class, but it was clear from the first day he stepped on the practice field that he just wasn't ready to contribute. His body and strength just weren't at the level they needed to be, so he redshirted as a true freshman. He'll have the opportunity showcase his improved strength and body in Spring and Fall Camp, but with a loaded defensive line group, it's likely that Havili-Katoa is another year away from making a contribution.
Vainuku joins the Utes after serving a 2 year LDS mission, and will line up at defensive tackle, rather than offensive guard. At East High School, Vainuku was a dominant force on the interior line, on both sides of the ball, and is the type of defensive tackle that will eat up blocks and free up defenders. Listed at 6'3-300lbs, Vainuku has a big frame, but will need the Spring and Fall to get back in football playing shape. A redshirt year could be likely for Vainuku.
Utah is hoping to strike a little gold with Repp, in the same way they did with Nate Orchard, as they plan on taking the stand out high school wide receiver and turn him in to an elite pass rusher off the edge. At 6'4-200lbs, Repp has the frame to add 40-50 pounds, while retaining the speed and explosiveness that made him a successful receiver. Because of the amount of strength training and weigh gain that he'll need, Repp will very likely redshirt as a true freshman. Could he be the next Nate Orchard?
Gonzalez started his unusual collegiate football career as a Tight End last Fall, but was switched over to defensive end towards the end of camp. He played defensive end in the first two games of the season, but was forced to sit out the rest of the year with an injury. There's been some speculation that he has since moved back to tight end, so it's unclear at this point exactly where Gonzalez will end up, but he has the tools to succeed at either spot. He has a huge frame and good speed, but would still need to learn all the techniques of rushing the passer and shedding blocks if he's wanting to see playing time at defensive end this season.
2015 Projected Defensive Line Depth Chart
Seni Fauonuku OR
Jason Fanaika OR
2015 Depth Chart Projections: Defensive Line
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