What ‘difficult’ thing Utah left guard Keaton Bills is working on during spring drills
Offensive line coach Jim Harding wants Bills to become a vocal leader of the O-line this spring
Utah junior Keaton Bills has 25 career starts at left guard under his belt and he was named All-Pac-12 honorable mention last season.
Bills is one of the returning starters on an offensive line that lost left tackle Braeden Daniels, who is moving on to the National Football League, and center Paul Maile to BYU through the transfer portal.
What does offensive line coach Jim Harding want to see from Bills in the spring?
“His big focus right now is the minor details. A step here or there. Hand placement in pass pro. But the thing that he can do best at is become a leader. He’s never had to do that,” Harding said.
“Not to say that he’s a bad leader, but he’s never been in a position of leadership. Now, he is. That’s what he needs to improve on the most. What is he going to bring to the young guys? What is he going to demand the practice look like? He’s got to be a second coach out there.”
Harding added that Bills, who is part of Utah’s leadership council, has always worked hard.
“But now he’s got to get out of his shell a little bit and demand that verbally from his teammates,” Harding said. “Not just, ‘Hey, I’m doing my job’ and playing in a phone booth. He’s got to make sure everybody across the board is doing what the expectation is.”
Bills said being a vocal leader is “a little more difficult for me. I’m a quiet guy. I like to come out here and just put my head down and do the work.
“It’s just remembering that I need to step up and be that leader. It’s not second nature so I’m trying to be that leader and trying to be more vocal. It’s hard. I’m trying to step up for the guys behind me. It’s a little bit difficult but I’m trying.”
During his years in the program, Bills has learned from former teammates that were strong leaders like Nick Ford.
“For sure, we’ve had a lot of great leaders before me. There are some things I see, some dos-and-don’ts,” he said. “I’m just trying to replicate some things and trying not to do other things. It’s difficult for me but I’m trying to get better.”
On top of that, Bills is trying to perfect his craft this spring.
“I’m just working on fine-tuning everything that I’ve been doing the past few years,” said the Corner Canyon High product.
“I’m trying to be a better leader and try to be a better example for my teammates around me. The hay’s never in the barn but I’m just trying to get better every day.”
So far in spring, things are going well, according to Bills.
“A week in, it’s just putting everything back together, dusting the rust off, and getting back in the swing of things. You’ve got to get your lungs back, but it’s been good. A lot of things to work on but so far, so good,” he said.
“The Rose Bowl is a quick turnaround. It feels like just yesterday that we were over there. The body feels good. It’s kind of mentally getting back into it. The pads haven’t been on for a little bit. You’ve just been doing conditioning and strength training. Getting back out there and getting your pad level back and your mindset takes a little bit of time, but slowly getting back.”
Harding is moving offensive linemen around during the spring to increase versatility. For example, Jaren Kump is taking reps at center as Johnny Maea is dealing with an injury. The Utes also have Kolinu’u Faaiu, who played some center last season.
“Johnny Maea, we’re hoping to have back towards the end of spring. With him being out, it gives an opportunity to take a look at other guys at center. I do think Jaren has a good understanding of the offense. That might be his end position,” Harding said.
“But we have Koli, who took game reps last year. We’re looking at Jaren. Spencer Fano will get some reps in there. With Johnny being out, it provides the opportunity for others to get some reps in there. You tend to lean on the guys that have been around the program the longest. Jaren has a good shot of being in there. We’ll see where the competition ends up.”
As for Bills, he is most comfortable at left guard.
“I’ve been a left guard ever since I’ve been here. I’ve done some switching around a little bit here and there,” he said. “For the most part, I love being a left guard and I feel like I do well there. I like being there.”
This spring, Bills is looking to be a left guard that’s also a vocal leader.