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Utah Utes football: Linemen need to protect Jordan Wynn to get wins

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SALT LAKE CITY – The man the Utes' immediate future depends upon was mobbed by media on the first day of practice. Quarterback Jordan Wynn laughed, calling it "the most I've ever had."

But for those in charge of protecting him, you could almost hear crickets chirping. Which is fine with them. Ask any offensive lineman, he'll tell you his job is like a Secret Service agent's, jogging alongside the presidential motorcade.

If people start really noticing you, something has gone wrong.

The Utes opened practice Thursday with the usual August optimism. But this year was different, in a sense. Other times, they were playing for a Mountain West championship or, best-case-scenario, a BCS bowl. This year they're playing for a Rose Bowl or better. Teams can think like that in August, even if it's nonsense.

Other than New Year's Eve, there's not a more optimistic day of the year.

Thus, the offensive line has its orders for 2011: guard quarterback Jordan Wynn from harm. Although the Utes have three quarterbacks, the team won't do much if Wynn gets hurt. Or did you forget what happened in last year's Las Vegas Bowl?

None of this year's backup quarterbacks has any Division I experience.

"We, like, give our lives to make sure he's not getting touched," said center Tevita Stevens.

Wynn missed the bowl game last year with a shoulder injury. He actually played more than half the season with it hurt, but kept it a secret. When he started having problems, doubters began saying his arm wasn't good or he lacked confidence. Yet this is the guy who starred in the 2009 Poinsettia Bowl; same guy who led Utah to a 68-point game Iowa State.

In his first start (2009) he had the best passing day of any freshman quarterback in school history, totaling 297 yards against New Mexico.

At times Wynn can make opponents appear as defenseless as the Albanian navy.

But he has also battled injuries. Aside from the shoulder, he missed two games last year with an damaged thumb. Asked if he feels Wynn is sturdy, Ute coach Kyle Whittingham said, "We believe so. He's a tough kid, no doubt about that. He gets up after every hit."

Whittingham said Wynn's shoulder is 100 percent, but qualified his remarks by saying, "We can't tell for sure how it will play out, but we think he's going to be a guy who will be able to sustain it."

Realistically, if Wynn is healthy Utah has a chance to win the Pac-12 South. Without him the Utes could lose every conference game.

Considering the ineligibility of projected starter Benji Kemoeatu, and the graduation of guard Caleb Schlauderauff and center Zane Taylor, Whittingham calls the offensive line "the leanest area as far as depth goes" on the team. Nevertheless, the marching orders are clear: Don't let ANYBODY in that space. Guard Wynn like an artifact. Whittingham calls quarterback protection "job one."

"Oh yeah, that's what we live for," tackle John Cullen said. "The quarterback is our little brother, if you want to put it that way. That's just someone you protect. You don't let people mess with your quarterback; you don't let people talk to your quarterback. It's just completely off limits."

It's not like the Utes have been terrible in that area. Last year they allowed just 11 sacks, fourth-fewest in the conference. The starters didn't allow a sack until the Oct. 20 game against Wyoming. Coaches say the new Norm Chow offense should actually protect Wynn better than the spread.

Regardless, now that they're in the Pac-12 they will face more speed from the secondaries and linebackers, more size in the lines. In other words, more lurking dangers. Cullen and friends might want to re-watch "The Bodyguard" on DVD. Because while the Utes enter their new conference with the confidence of a president, they should also make sure to have the security of one, too.

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