Breaking Down Utah Football’s 2023 Position Groups: Defensive Line

Jul 1, 2023, 2:59 PM

SALT LAKE CITY – Fall camp is about a month away for Utah football and to help refresh our minds for it, we’ll be breaking down each of the Utes’ 2023 position groups.

Every week till “Camp Kyle” kicks off, look for one offensive and one defensive position group per week. Today we continue on with another position group that looks pretty stacked for Utah in the defensive line.

In an effort to include key special teams players later on in this refresher series, both interior and exterior defensive linemen for Utah will be featured in this piece. As mentioned above, there is confidence in the depth of Lewis Powell and Luther Elliss’ group after spring ball and for good reason. The past few seasons haven’t been the best for the group largely due to youth, though they’ve still received top marks in the Pac-12. This year the collective group should be able to take a big step forward now that everyone has a season or two under their belt.

Who Is Returning For Utah’s Defensive Line?

In what felt like forever, Utah broke in a new coach last season welcoming back all-time great Luther Elliss to coach up the defensive tackles. There were some growing pains early on from the youngsters, but the group did get better as the 2022 season wore on and coach Elliss did a nice job. We expect year two for Elliss to be even better.

Oppositely, Lewis Powell will be going into his ninth season coaching up Utah’s defensive ends where he’s had a lot of success in the past with no reason to not believe the same will hold true in 2023.

As mentioned in the offensive line refresher, continuity is a big part of Utah’s success and having Elliss and Powell back coaching the Utah defensive line along with most of the rest of the staff matters in a season where the Utes have the potential to three-peat as Pac-12 Champs and more.

A Closer Look At The Returners For The Utah Defensive Tackles

*Bolded names indicate significant experience.

  • Tevita Fotu, Redshirt Sophomore, saw no action in 2022.
  • James LeBaron, Redshirt Freshman, saw action in 2022.
  • Simote Pepa, Sophomore, played in all 14 games with his first start at Colorado.
  • Junior Tafuna, Junior, started all 14 games, 2022 Pac-12 All-Conference Second Team.
  • Keanu Tanuvasa, Redshirt Freshman, four games played on the season with six tackles (1.5 TFL).
  • Aliki Vimahi, Junior, played in all 14 games, making nine starts with 14 tackles on the season (2.0 TFL, 1.0 sack).

A Closer Look At The Returners For The Utah Defensive Ends

*Bolded names indicate significant experience.

  • Ka’eo Akana, Redshirt Freshman, saw no action in 2022.
  • Jonah Elliss, Junior, played in 11 games with eight starts, 26 tackles, with 2nd-most TFL (6.0) on the defensive line.
  • Van Fillinger, Junior, 27 career games as a Ute with 19 starts, played eight games with six starts, before season-ending injury.
  • Chase Kennedy, Redshirt Freshman, saw action in the win at Colorado.
  • Gavin Nawahine, Sophomore, saw no action in 2022.
  • Helaman Ofahengaue, Redshirt Freshman, saw no action in 2022.
  • Connor O’Toole, Junior, played in all 14 games, starting five including four in a row to cap the season.

Who Is New On The Utah Defensive Line?

The Utes had a historic signing class in 2023 and one of the more exciting transfers in the group plays on the defensive line.

  • Logan Fano, Freshman, enrolled at BYU in January 2022 prior to transferring to Utah.

Some Words From Lewis Powell/Luther Elliss About The Utah D-Line

Last year defensive end coach Lewis Powell couldn’t stop talking about the depth at defensive end and 2023 shouldn’t be any different since everyone returned.

From coach Elliss’ standpoint, the overall talent in the 2023 defensive line group has a chance to be very special and he pulled no punches about it.

“I think this could be one of the most talented group of d-lineman I think we’ve had here in Utah for- I mean, there have been multiple guys, but I think as a whole unit they have opportunities to get to that next level,” coach Elliss said after spring ball this year. “As far as depth- that is what I see right now, but hey, things happen, can’t predict the future and who knows what is going to happen, but as far as the talent and work ethic, and capabilities of the guys in the room, they all will have a shot at the next level.”

Michelle Bodkin is the Utah Utes Insider for KSLsports.com and host of both the Crimson Corner Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and The Saturday Show (Saturday from 10 a.m.–12 p.m.) on The KSL Sports Zone. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram: @BodkinKSLsports

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Breaking Down Utah Football’s 2023 Position Groups: Defensive Line