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Utah Football Spring Preview: Utes Aim to Fill the Massive Void Left By Lotulelei and Kruger Brothers

The Utes being to try and find answers up front on defense after losing three out of four starters on the defensive line.

George Frey

The graduation of All-American Star Lotulelei literally and figuratively leaves a big hole in the front of Utah's defense going into spring, and unfortunately for the Utes, the soon-to-be first round draft pick isn't the only key figure they lost on their defensive front. In addition to Lotulelei, the Utes also lost his fellow starting defensive tackle in Dave Kruger and Dave's brother Joe at defensive end who somewhat unexpectedly declared for the NFL Draft as a junior. Replacing these three highly-talented players who accounted for nearly a ton of beef up front for the Utes is sure to be item number to be addressed in Salt Lake City this Spring.

The Utes do return one proven starter in junior defensive end Nate Orchard (Formerly Fakahafua) who had nearly 10 tackles-for-loss in 2012 as he was strong on the edge. Unfortunately for the Utes, there isn't much experience or size there after Orchard due to the absence of Joe Kruger. Standout senior Trevor Reilly can play defensive end and led the Utes in tackles in 2012 and may be called upon to play up front more with their lack of depth and size but he really is more of a linebacker. If Reilly doesn't move up to the defensive line as a full-time starter, expect undersized junior Jacoby Hale, who is only 6'0 225, to see a lot of time as he had 27 tackles in 2012.

Though there isn't a strong, returning starter like there is at defensive end, there is at least a little bit more experienced talent at defensive tackle as there is a handful of guys who will compete to replace Lotulelei and Dave Kruger. The most experienced of the group is senior Tenny Palepoi who had 21 tackles and 2 sacks in 2012 and can help fill in the size gap as he is 6'2 305. The other somewhat experienced candidate is sophomore Viliseni Fauonuku who brings an interesting physique to the table at 5'11 294, you just don't usually see defensive linemen that are under six foot, but Fauonuku is a fire hydrant that had 4.5 tackles for loss in 2012.

Also expect JC signee Ulisese Ianu to compete for time as the Utes pulled him away from Oregon State, Washington State and Boise State during the recruiting period. Ianu is 6'2 295 and regardless of how little experience he has, the Utes are going to need a lot of big bodies up front.