Before last season, Utah football coach Kyle Whittingham proclaimed Steve Fifita would be the "best defensive lineman in the Mountain West Conference."

Fifita's gone, but Whittingham is already saying the same thing about his replacement, Kelly Talavou.

"I expect him to be the best defensive tackle in the Mountain West Conference," Whittingham said Tuesday after the Utes' ninth of 15 practices.

Defensive coordinator Gary Andersen echoed his boss, saying, "He should be the best defensive tackle in the Mountain West. That should be his goal, I know it's my goal for him. He's working hard this spring and is doing a very good job."

Talavou, who transferred from Idaho, has moved from the starting nose guard position to the tackle position vacated by Fifita.

However, the change is negligible, according to Andersen, who also coaches the defensive line.

"There isn't much difference," Andersen said. "The positions are very interchangeable."

Andersen said besides Talavou, Martail Burnett, who is back at the open end position, is also looking good this spring. Talavou and Burnett give the Utes needed experience on the defensive line, which is traditionally a strength of Utah football.

"Kelly has everything we look for in a defensive lineman," Andersen said. "He has great natural use of hands, he has very good initial quickness and very good feet."

Andersen said Burnett, who originally came to Utah as a safety, has gained nearly 40 pounds since the start of last season and now checks in at 250.

Burnett also has a 40-inch vertical leap, the best on the team, which comes in handy when he's rushing a passer and needs to knock down passes. Burnett has been slowed a bit by a hamstring injury but still practices daily on limited basis.

Taking over at the noseguard spot is Paul Soliai, who came to Utah as an offensive lineman but was switched to defense last year.

Andersen said Soliai is "adjusting well" and has dropped 15 pounds to weigh in at 318.

Casey Sutera, a transfer from Southern Utah, is holding down the other end position, while Soli Lefiti recovers from a shoulder injury.

A couple of other linemen who have been hampered by injuries this spring are redshirt freshmen Kenape Eliapo and Semisi Livai.

Ute practice continues Thursday, with a second scrimmage scheduled for Saturday morning. The Red-White spring game will be held the following Saturday.