‘We’ve got something special going on’: Utah’s defensive line boasts depth, experience
The focus during spring, said coach Sione Po’uha, is helping his players, especially the younger ones, sharpen their technique and fundamentals
Perhaps what’s most notable about Utah’s defensive line is its depth and experience.
This spring, it also means a lot of competition.
And that’s great news for the Utes’ defense.
“It’s good to build competition,” said defensive tackles coach Sione Po’uha. “You have guys that have experience and you have younger guys and everybody in between. It can be challenging but we’ve been able to position it in a way where we can create competition.”
The depth chart lists junior Mika Tafua, sophomore Brant Kuithe and freshman Xavier Carlton at left end; senior Viane Moala and junior Devin Kaufusi at left tackle; senior Maxs Tupai, freshman Van Fillinger and freshman Miki Suguturaga at right end.
“It brings a lot to the table with a lot of the guys coming back because that means we have experience,” Tupai said. “That’s going to help us overall.”
“There’s a lot of good competition. There’s about nine of us this spring. Everybody’s getting a lot of reps. The competition helps,” said Hauati Pututau. “There’s still a lot of young guys but that experience that we have coming back is helping a lot smooth things out and show the young guys how it’s going to go.”
The focus during spring, said Po’uha, is helping his players, especially the younger ones, sharpen their technique and fundamentals.
“We had kind of an abbreviated season last year, which gave them a chance to get their feet wet a little bit,” he said of the freshmen. “But now, going through the full cycle, going through spring ball, they’re able to get the sharpening practices from a spring season that we’re having right now … and also getting a little bit more drenched in the playbook and understanding the whole philosophy of how we play defense here.”
Coach Kyle Whittingham has talked about a pair of freshmen — Fillinger and Carlton. Fillinger saw action in five games in 2020, while Carlton played in four games.
“They continue to get better and bigger as well. Van and X are both over 260 (pounds),” Whittingham said. “When we got them they were in the 240 range. Their knowledge of the scheme has obviously increased. They’re doing a nice job. They’re much improved from where they were last fall.”
“I feel like we’ve got something special going on this year. I really didn’t have a full season so it was a no-brainer for me to come back.” — Viane Moala
Meanwhile, Kaufusi, a transfer from BYU, and the younger brother of former Cougar defensive line stars Bronson and Corbin Kaufusi, has moved from end to tackle.
“I think when you have any Kaufusis, you put them anywhere,” Po’uha said. “He’s taken it pretty naturally but I think he’s been really intentional on getting better at that position of being a defensive tackle, moving from the outside in. He’s got a great work habit, a great attitude. For him, because of his ability, he’s intentionally trying to get better with every practice.”
Moala is one of the seniors that opted to return for another season of college football.
“I feel like we’ve got something special going on this year,” he said. “I really didn’t have a full season so it was a no-brainer for me to come back.”
On Friday, the Utes will hold their first scrimmage of the spring.
“We’ve been going at it for a couple of weeks now,” Po’uha said. “I’m looking forward to seeing how they react to situational football. That’s one of the main goals of having these scrimmages.”