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No matter who wins starting QB job, pass protection is ‘a big focus point’ for Utah offensive line

Utah has five returning starters on the O-line, highlighted by junior center Nick Ford and freshman Sataoa Laumea.

Utah quarterback Charlie Brewer lines up behind the offensive line
Utah quarterback Charlie Brewer lines up behind the offensive line during the first day of the Utes’ fall camp on Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2021 in Salt Lake City.
Utah Athletics

As fall camp got underway at Utah this week, all eyes were on the quarterbacks.

No surprise there — the Utes are staging a QB competition between senior Charlie Brewer and sophomore Cam Rising.

But offensive line coach Jim Harding knows that his job is to keep whichever quarterback that takes snaps stays upright this season.

“Pass protection has been a huge focus for us,” he said. “We can’t lose sight of who we are in running the football, but we have to do a better job protecting, giving the quarterback, whoever that might be, some time to go through his progressions. That’s a big focus point this fall camp.”

Utah has five returning starters on the O-line, highlighted by all-conference first-team center Nick Ford, a junior, and freshman Sataoa Laumea, a second-team selection.

Also back are freshman left tackle Jaren Kump, sophomore left guard Braeden Daniels and sophomore right tackle Simi Moala.

Harding is looking to solidify that starting five.

“The focus this fall camp is to put guys together where we think they are based on what we saw in the limited play last year, spring ball, as well as, certainly the depth chart isn’t set yet,” he said. “There will be less movement upfront and we’re trying to put guys where we think they will end up so they can start jelling much sooner than what we’ve done in the past.”

The anchor of that offensive line is Ford, who has played multiple positions on the O-line during his Ute career. He has valuable experience playing with various quarterbacks.

“Having Nick Ford at center is a valuable situation no matter the circumstances. He is one of our team leaders, without a doubt,” said coach Kyle Whittingham. “As of right now, he’s a captain and our veteran O-lineman. He started and played exceptionally well in a bunch of games through his career here. We were elated that he came back and he’s done a great job of leading all summer long.”

Harding also heaped high praise for Ford.

“I think he may have one of the highest football IQs of any player I’ve had since I’ve been here. He has a good presence about him. He’s got great leadership skills. The kids listen to him,” Harding said. “There are a lot of things that he’ll see when we’re watching film and he does a great job of communicating with guys. When we had two brand-new players in there, he did a nice job working with those guys. I expect him to do the same thing this fall.”

One of the offensive linemen Harding was asked about Wednesday was 6-foot-8 senior Bamidele Olaseni, a former four-star recruit who played on special teams last season. The London, England, native was a first-team NJCAA All-American as a sophomore at Garden City Community College in 2018.

“He understands what it’s going to take. He also has a better understanding that he came here, has gone through a long process to get where he is. This is it for him,” Harding said. “There is no extra time. He’s going to have six months or thereabouts in the program and it’s time to perform or else I didn’t do a good enough job getting him ready.

“For him personally, he’s more committed and he understands the playbook. It’s his third year in the system. That’s the starting point and that starting point is higher than where it’s ever been before.”

With a quarterback battle going on, Harding said both QBs have good chemistry with the offensive line.

“The nice thing is we have a bunch of kids that have done a lot of things on their own away from coaches in the summer,” he said. “There is a certain level of comfort between the two position groups. That’s only going to help us. We have a long way to go.”