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Utah Utes defensive end Mika Tafua (42) celebrates a sack as Utah and Washington play in the Pac-12 Championship game at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara on Friday, Nov. 30, 2018. (Deseret News)
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Utah Football’s Defensive Ends Has Mixture Of Veterans, Young Talent

Utah Utes defensive end Mika Tafua (42) celebrates a sack as Utah and Washington play in the Pac-12 Championship game at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara on Friday, Nov. 30, 2018. (Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Utah football has a rich history of talented defensive ends and it is trending that way for the next 3-4 years with the group that Kyle Whittingham has on the edges.

One of the two experienced position groups on a very young defense is the defensive ends who have starters returning along with a couple of highly touted recruits that have bright futures with the program.

The Crimson Corner is previewing each position group leading up to the 2020 college football season. We continue with the defensive ends.

Returning Experience

Mika Tafua had a breakout season in 2019 as a sophomore. After racking up 47 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, 3 sacks and a four fumble recoveries with one returned for a touchdown, Tafua was named All-Pac-12 honorable mention. He started in 13 of Utah’s 14 games last season. Tafua is one of two returning starters on defense. Look for him to have a big year as a junior for the Utes.

Maxs Tupai will be back with the team in the fall for his senior season. He split reps with Tafua on the opposite side of Bradlee Anae last season. Tupai collected 21 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and one sack in 2019 as a junior. In 2018, he had experience with 12 games played including 8 starts at left end. His leadership and experience will be critical for Utah’s success on defense this season.

Miki Suguturaga used a redshirt last season as a true freshman. Kyle Whittingham has spoken highly of Suguturaga. In his first season off of his church mission, Suguturaga played in two games in 2019 against Idaho State and Texas.

Fua Pututau played in one game last season after utilizing his redshirt in 2018 following a church mission. He made a tackle against Idaho State.

Mufi Hill-Hunt is a transfer from Michigan State but prepped at Taylorsville High School. He was listed as a starter at defensive end during spring ball but will likely be playing and contributing more at defensive tackle. After playing in two games last season, Hill-Hunt will have one more year of eligibility remaining.

Big Shoes To Fill

This defensive end group has big shoes to fill with the departure of Utah’s career sack leader Bradlee Anae. The mayor of “Sack Lake City” will be missed but his leadership over the years will rub off on the next batch of defensive ends in the program.

Anae was taken in the fifth round of the 2020 NFL Draft by the Dallas Cowboys.

Newcomers

Four-star DE Van Fillinger is a “hometown hero” for Utah after playing at Corner Canyon High School. Originally a Texas commit, Fillinger is a very physical rusher at 6’4, 248-pounds, he has a great nose for the ball. Fillinger is quick off of the line and can get through double teams by using his quick speed. In high school, Fillinger played both tackle and end for the Chargers while racking up 88 tackles and 13.5 sacks.

Four-star prospect Xavier Carlton is another huge asset for the Utes from the 2020 class. He is a 6’7, 262-pound rusher that is quick for his size. Carlton can get the pass deflections off the line by using his length but is quick to explode to the ball carrier when he has an opening.

Taniela Pututau can play both defensive end and tackle so he will be in the mix for both positions. He recently returned from his church mission. Pututau is from Cottonwood High School.

Like Taniela, Tennessee Pututau is a player that can play both defensive tackle and end. He just returned from his church mission. Pututau is from East High School.

Three-star Tyler Wegis is a 6’6, 210-pound defensive end from San Juan Hills High School in San Juan Capistrano, California. Wegis is really good at attacking any gap that is available or blasting through his block with his long arms. He is also a guy that can hit really hard too.

Starter Predictions

Especially with the off-season being controlled by a pandemic, Utah is already very young on defense. The safe bet is to have two veterans patrolling the edges plus they are both very talented. By game one, Mika Tafua and Maxs Tupai will be the starters at defensive end. I think that Xavier Carlton and Van Fillinger will be the backups.

Miki Suguturaga and Fua Pututau will be in the mix though as they will fight for reps.

Trevor Allen is a Utah Utes Insider for KSLSports.com and host of the Crimson Corner podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @TrevorASportsYou can download and listen to the podcast, here.