When the first day of fall camp on August 4th rolls around, there will be some familiar faces and a not-so-familiar one to look for in the Ute offensive line.
New offensive line coach Jim Harding comes to Utah by way of Wyoming, and he will look to improve a front line that gave up 23 sacks a season ago.
“I know we have some really good talent coming back,” Harding said.
One of those returning players is junior Jeremiah Poutasi.
Poutasi has started the previous two seasons for the Utes at left tackle, and Harding plans on him holding down the left side again. The junior played all 12 games at the left tackle position last season and should be comfortable and geared for a strong season.
While Poutasi will be returning to his position, the same cannot be said for the rest of the line.
Senior Junior Salt led the Utes last year with 20 knockdowns while playing at right guard, but Harding and the Utes plan on using his strength at left guard in 2014. Junior Siaosi Aiono, who had eight starts at right tackle last season, will be moving to center.
Sophomore Isaac Asiata will be the fourth of the returning O-line. Asiata spent last season as a co-starter at right tackle with Aiono. With Aiono moving to center, Asiata looks to be the full-time starter at the position.
The right guard position has been a toss-up for Harding, but an early favorite looks to be freshman Salesi Uhatafe.
With the four returning offensive line starters and Uhatafe, Utah does not have much experience on the bench. Most of the bench for the O-line has only seen time in last season’s Weber State game and on special teams.
Others who might get significant time are juniors Andrew Albers and J.J. Dielman. Albers should be Poutasi’s back up, while Dielman looks to spell Asiata.
A promising freshman, Jackson Barton, shows signs of a strong future in the O-line. It’s still questionable, though, how much he’ll be a factor and how his game will translate to the collegiate pace.
With all the small changes being made, Harding has confidence in the roster.
“From what I am hearing from the players, things are going well,” Harding said. “Things are moving in the right direction, and I look forward to see the progress they make.”
Harding will begin his first season with the Utes under a familiar system with new offensive coordinator Dave Christensen. Both Harding and Christensen made the move from the University of Wyoming where Christensen was the head coach and Harding was the offensive line coach.
“I know the offensive system that … Christensen is implementing really well, and hopefully I can contribute in a positive way,” Harding said.
With the changes being made to the O-line and the new system being put in place, Harding will have his work cut out for him in preseason camp.
“I just know that I will work hard and do anything I can to help this program be successful,” Harding said.