Every year we feel like it’s going to be good, but this year we’re still kind of under the radar. – Siaosi Aiono

SALT LAKE CITY — There he is, right on the cover of Utah’s 2015 media guide with better-known teammates Devontae Booker, Tom Hackett and Jared Norris.

Unlike the others, though, Siaosi Aiono works in the trenches. The Rimington Trophy candidate is the lone senior on an offensive line returning four starters.

“He’s solid, rock solid,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. “He’s the leader of the offensive line, makes all the calls.”

It’s a position the 6-foot-2, 305-pounder with 28 games of collegiate experience takes seriously.

“I kind of got put into that spot and they want me to take over that role,” Aiono said. “So being the oldest guy on the line right now I kind of take pride in it because the boys look up to me and I look up to them. It’s kind of a good deal for me because I need to step up this year.”

As Utah’s center last season, Aiono allowed just one sack in 747 regular-season snaps.

“He’s kind of the heartbeat of the group,” said offensive line coach Jim Harding. “He doesn’t say a lot but when he does speak those kids listen.”

Harding noted that Aiono’s 20 career starts and experience naturally lends itself to a leadership role. He added that Aiono does a nice job and works well with the younger guys. Harding said that a handful of the linemen watch practice film during lunch breaks, often before the staff gets a chance to watch it.

Aiono is the veteran of a position group with a majority of guys coming back. The main departures were NFL draftee C.J. Poutasi and Junior Salt.

“I don’t think we get enough credit with how experienced our guys are, I mean, there’s not a lot of gaps to fill in from last year because we only lost two guys,” Aiono said. “But the guys in back of them got a lot of playing time last year and stuff like that, so I feel real comfortable and confident in all the young guys that are going to step up this year.”

Three juniors — J.J. Dielman (right tackle), Isaac Asiata (left guard) and Sam Tevi (left tackle) — along with sophomore Salesi Uhatafe (right guard) and Aiono are among the depth chart leaders in camp. Junior center Hiva Lutui and redshirt freshman tackle Jackson Barton are also pushing for playing time.

“The end result of your offensive line is you want the five best out there, just like anything else,” Whittingham said. “You want your best players on the field.”

Whittingham noted that Lutui, who is listed as Aiono’s backup at center, is doing a good job and might be one of the five best linemen right now.

“So if that continues to be the case you might see some shuffling of the deck there,” said Whittingham, who mentioned that Aiono has played some guard and tackle and that Lutui has seen action at guard. “If he’s one of the five best we’ll adjust accordingly.”

Later in the week, Whittingham reiterated that the best five will play and whatever combination is needed will be sorted out.

“You may very well see Siaosi at tackle,” Whittingham said. “We’ll see.”

Harding admitted that it would be a tough decision to move guys around but emphasized his desire to play the five best. He said his linemen learn the entire scheme during installation. The more positions they learn, Harding continued, the more marketable they are to get on the field sooner.

Aiono, who made eight starts at right tackle in 2013, has a track record of adaptability. He’s played at center for Utah quarterbacks Travis Wilson, Kendal Thompson, Chase Hansen, Brandon Cox and Conner Manning.

“From the outside it might seem like it’s hard for us to do but it’s easy. We worked out together every day,” Aiono said. “We all get familiar with each other in the summer and our offseason workouts. So the transition — whoever’s in there — it’s pretty easy for me at least. Because I have a good relationship with all of them. Whoever’s in, I’m confident in all of them. So it’s pretty good.”

Aiono, likewise, insists that Utah’s offense will be much improved this season.

“Every year we feel like it’s going to be good, but this year we’re still kind of under the radar,” he said. “I feel like we’re going to put on a real good show and season this year. So I think everybody should just stay tuned and just have faith in our offense.”

Aiono has a good bond with quarterback frontrunner Wilson.

“We have a great relationship,” said Wilson, who explained that they lived in the dorms together after arriving at Utah back in the day and have remained close. “I’m really happy that he’s my guy in front of me and just really happy with his performance and how well he’s been doing.”

Wilson had additional praise for Aiono.

“He’s so smart at his position and he really takes control of that O-line and makes sure they’re ready to go,” Wilson said. “He’s definitely a great leader for that group.”

Email: dirk@desnews.com

Twitter: @DirkFacer