Utah football: O-line faces tough challenge in Florida season opener

Things didn’t start well for Utah’s offensive line in 2021, but by the end of the season, the O line was one of the strengths of the team that won the Pac-12 championship.

Offensive line coach Jim Harding knows that heading into the 2022 campaign, having a cohesive, cohesive squad in the trenches is a top priority, especially with the season opener against SEC Florida. September 3 in Gainesville.

“I recognize that we didn’t play very well at the start of the year. It had a lot to do with moving guys around. It’s going to be important to get these guys in place right away,” Harding said. “We recognize the first game we have this year. The sooner we can get these five guys playing together, getting used to each other, will only make us better in the long run.

What did left tackle Braeden Daniels learn from last season?

“What I want to take away from last year is that it’s not how you start, it’s how you end,” he said. “Coach Harding and all of us assessed ourselves and looked in the mirror. We looked at what the problem was and what we needed to address. It’s something we have to do this year. We know we have the Florida in our first game. It’s something we’re looking forward to.

Offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig liked what he saw from the O line in spring training.

“It’s starting to solidify with the first and second teams, trying to develop that continuity, which was such a big part of our mid-season push,” he said. “We had the same five guys playing most of the time. We’re trying to focus on that moving forward.

Utah coaches love the depth they have on the O line, despite losing center Nick Ford and left tackle Bamidele Olaseni.

“We have a lot of good young offensive linemen in the program,” coach Kyle Whittingham said. “We lost our left tackle, Bam Olaseni, and Nick Ford, who played such good football for us. We have a lot of talent and the depth is solid along the offensive line. That’s what we coaches do, develop talent. I’m sure Jim Harding will do a good job of that.

Whittingham added that left guards Keaton Bills and Michael Mokofisi “have played their best football this spring…they’re absolutely ready to play for us.”

Center Paul Maile and tackle Jaren Kump missed spring training due to injuries, but both should be ready this fall.

“Johnny Maea has done a good job moving through the middle and is starting to consolidate that position. Braeden Daniels has solidified at left tackle,” Whittingham said. “Falcon (Kaumatule) had a really good spring at right tackle “Jaren Kump will be back this fall. It’s a position he’s played. We think we’ll have 10 quality guys with a few more guys who will continue to develop.”

Others in the mix include Sataoa Laumea and Zereoue Williams.

Kaumatule, a sophomore, has made great progress since joining the program.

“Falcon is a guy who had never played online before he got here. He only played the D end and a bit of the tight end, so he got better every year,” Harding said. This spring he got a lot more reps. It’s not always the same mistake.

“There’s a level of experience there where he sees something and he reacts quicker. He’s got really good strength numbers in the weight room. It’s never been a physical issue. It’s just a lack of experience. This spring he has done a good job of putting things together.

Harding is optimistic about Kump’s development.

“Jaren fought off two pretty major injuries. He always does everything he can. He has a great attitude and he breaks his tail. He’s a guy who will be in the mix somewhere. Where? I don’t know,” he said. “This piece of the puzzle is something we need to solve right away. But in terms of attitude and work ethic, he’s great. He’s a great boy. He’s going to kick ass to put himself in a position to be a postman this fall.

Harding said Spring Ball was a good place to start, but there’s a lot to do in the rest of the offseason.

“It’s been a lot of really good competition. I think the kids are getting better, but there are definitely things we need to do to improve and things we hope we can improve on…throughout the summer.

For Harding, it’s all about consistency – starting with the season opener.

“The guys we have right now, we’ve been playing in the same position the majority of the spring,” he said. “We will have the addition of two guys, Jaren and Paul, who will be thrown into this equation. The goal is to get these guys up and running right away.

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham watches the action on the field behind the offense during the University of Utah Red and White game at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Saturday, April 23, 2022 Whittingham likes the way the offensive line looks like as well as its depth.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

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