Pac-12: Percy Taumoelau

Want to see the unflappable Kyle Whittingham get a look of concern on his face? Mention Utah's situation at offensive tackle. Factor out two outstanding starters who are now in the NFL and factor in a quarterback with a history of injury and you have one concerned coach.

So Whittingham put a not-so-fine point on what his top four priorities were heading into preseason camp.

    [+] EnlargeKyle Whittingham
    Russ Isabella/US PresswireUtah coach Kyle Whittingham, right, is hoping to find some tackles to protect quarterback Jordan Wynn.
  1. Find an offensive tackle.
  2. Find an offensive tackle.
  3. Find an offensive tackle.
  4. Find an offensive tackle.

Two starters, two backups.

"That's priority one, two, three and four for us right now," Whittingham said. "Those tackle positions are as important as anything else we've got going on."

Finding steady replacements for John Cullen and Tony Bergstrom will go a long way toward helping to keep quarterback Jordan Wynn healthy while also, Whittingham hopes, continuing to build on the solid season of running back John White (1,519 yards, 15 touchdowns).

But it's no easy task. Bergstrom was first-team all-conference at right tackle and Cullen was second-team at the left spot.

"We've been blessed to have pretty good tackles," Whittingham said. "But right now, I guess you could say, we're starting over at that position."

The post-spring, pre-fall depth chart lists Percy Taumoelau, who appeared in six games on the line last season, and Kala Friel one-and-two respectively at left tackle. Friel is a former walk-on who received a scholarship when he returned from his LDS church mission. Redshirt freshman Daniel Nielson is slotted first at right tackle, though senior Miles Mason started in 11 games last year (10 at left guard, one at left tackle). But depth charts are fluid.

"I felt like we had some guys really emerge in the spring as candidates," Whittingham said. "... The starters won't be solidified until well into camp after we've had the opportunity to get a good look at the incoming recruits."

Among those recruits are JC transfers Marc Pouvave and Carlos Lozano and prep recruits Hiva Lutui and Jeremiah Poutasi. That means there are seven players to fill those two starting spots and two backups.

Whittingham described the line as "solid" on the interior and at center, where Tevita Stevens returns as a Rimington Trophy candidate and Sam Brenner is starting for the second year at right guard.

Utah spring wrap

May, 14, 2012
5/14/12
7:00
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2011 overall record: 8-5
2011 conference record: 4-5 (T 3rd, South)
Returning starters: Offense: 9; defense: 7; punter/kicker: 2

Top returners
QB Jordan Wynn, DT Star Lotulelei, RB John White, WR DeVonte Christopher, S Brian Blechen, OL Sam Brenner.

Key losses
OL Tony Bergstrom, DE Derrick Shelby; LB Chaz Walker, OL John Cullen.

2011 statistical leaders (*returning)
Rushing: John White* (1,519 yards)
Passing: Jon Hays* (1,459 yards)
Receiving: DeVonte Christopher* (663 yards)
Tackles: Chaz Walker (118)
Sacks: Derrick Shelby, Trevor Reilly* (5)
Interceptions: Conroy Black (4)

Spring answers
1. High hopes: Quarterback Jordan Wynn is healthy -- hopefully for more than just a few weeks at a time. After a fantastic true freshman year, Wynn's career has been hijacked by multiple injuries that have limited his time. He's put on more weight (up to about 210) and if he stays healthy, should have great success with Brian Johnson running the offense.

2. LB answers: The Utes had some holes to fill at the linebacker spot with the departures of Chaz Walker and Matt Martinez, leaving Trevor Reilly as the only returning starter. But V.J. Fehoko appears to have won the job at the middle linebacker spot and either Jacoby Hale or LT Filiaga will fill the rover spot.

3. RB depth: John White had more carries than any other running back in the conference last season. That's a lot of wear and tear, so developing some guys behind him was crucial. Harvey Langi and Kelvin York established themselves as the guys behind White. Both are bigger -- Langi is 228 and York is 225 -- so they'll be a nice change of pace from the speedier White.

Fall questions
1. Who has Wynn's back? Developing a guy behind Wynn -- giving his history of injury -- is pretty crucial. It looks like Jon Hays would probably be the guy if Wynn goes down again -- which makes sense -- because the Utes probably don't want to burn a redshirt year on Travis Wilson or Chase Hansen. But on his latest depth chart, head coach Kyle Whittingham left an "OR" between Hays and Wilson, leaving the door open that maybe he has a little more faith in Wilson.

2. Who has Wynn's backside? The Utes have to fill two substantial holes left by departed tackles John Cullen and Tony Bergstrom. As of now, Percy Taumoelau is penciled in at left tackle and Daniel Nielson is slotted for the right tackle. But Whittingham has said those aren't set in stone. Cullen and Bergstrom were two of the best in the conference. No easy job stepping in for those guys.

3. DL depth: Up front, Utah is probably as good as anyone in the conference with Lotulelei, Joe and Dave Kruger and Nate Fakahafua. But behind them, there are questions. Converted running back Thretton Palamo, Hunter Dimick and junior-college transfer Niasi Leota figure to be in the mix. But like the offensive-line spots, nothing is written in ink. Junior Salt and Tenny Palepoi could also see time in the rotation.

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