Spring Ball Review: A Look At Utah Football’s Defensive Ends

Jul 2, 2024, 2:03 PM

SALT LAKE CITY – The Utes wrapped up a very productive spring ball that has fans antsy for the start of the 2024 football season.

All of the promise is there, and opportunities feel plentiful for an overall very experienced group heading into a new conference in the Big 12.

Unfortunately, there are a few months left till we can see it all come together for the Utes on the field, but for now we can go back and review the team in anticipation.

Today we’ll take a look at a group the Utah football coaching staff feels is a very deep group in the defensive ends.

If you missed it last week, you can also check out the previous article about the Utes’ defensive tackles with position coach Luther Elliss.

Who Are The Utah Defensive Tackles?

What Utah Defensive Ends Coach Lewis Powell Had To Say About The Group After Spring Ball

Utah has had a really solid group of defensive ends over the years and 2024 looks to be no different.

Position coach Lewis Powell was particularly impressed with how his guys- young and veteran- came in over the spring and worked on gaining the confidence necessary to obliterate opposing quarterbacks come fall.

“Overall, Connor with gaining confidence,” Powell said. “I felt like the whole group- especially the younger guys with Taufatofua, Akana, Nawahine, and John Henry Daley- we saw a quick glimpse of what he can do. Just confidence, understanding the overall game and how they fit in it- I loved the competition. It was tough. The O pushed them to be tougher and understand it’s a mindset they all have to have when it’s time for them to get in and line up. Jonah Lea’ea was another kid that gained a lot of confidence.”

From Wide Receiver To Defensive End, Connor O’Toole Is One To Watch

O’Toole has had an interesting path to becoming a defensive end the Utes are really high on, starting his career as a wide receiver.

Many predicted 2023 would be O’Toole’s breakout season, but unfortunately, he was one of the many affected by the plague of injuries. The frustration of being sidelined apparently hasn’t put a damper on O’Toole or his potential with Powell expressing he thinks his star in the making has used the “off time” to become even better at his craft.


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A post shared by Connor O’Toole (@connor.otoole_)

“Connor is one of those guys who took advantage of those 15 practices,” Powell said. “He knew where his weaknesses are and knew he needed to gain that confidence back after his injury and the surgery. Man, he practiced well throughout the 15 practices and the main thing was he got better. They all had their individual battles and understanding what they needed to get better at and he’s one of those guys who got better at what he needed to sharpen up. Not only that, but he came out healthy.”

Vili Taufatofua Has Been Progressing Nicely

Last year, the Utes picked up a late, intriguing get in Vili Taufatofua who was able to make it in time for fall camp. As with a lot of young players and newcomers to the game of football, there was a learning curve that made it so fans didn’t get to see Taufatofua in action last season, but Powell is very pleased with the progress he’s made after almost being in Salt Lake for a full year.

“Going into his third year of football- man, he’s taken big strides,” Powell said. “He’s really strong. Coming from JuCo and leading JuCo with no football experience and having 18 sacks is pretty good. I’m really excited about his growth too. He’s going to be a good player moving forward.”

Will The New Jonah Elliss Please Stand Up?

As mentioned above, Connor O’Toole was one of the many victims of the Utah football injury bug in 2023. As frustrating as it was to not be able to see a guy that had been talked about through both spring and fall, it did open the door for what turned out to be another start to step through. Of course, we are talking about Jonah Elliss who used that opportunity to launch himself to the NFL this year.

So, who does Powell think has the potential to unexpectedly blow up like that if opportunity presents itself this year?


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A post shared by Kaeo Akana (@kaeo03)

“I could see Ka’eo Akana doing the same thing,” Powell said. “He’s really explosive and gained the confidence that Connor got this spring. He’s coming back from injury too. Elijah Elliss was standing on the sideline and he looks like Jonah- he looks bigger than Jonah already. I think he was 6’1″ and he’s now 6’3″. He’s another kid we are excited for. Kash Dillon is a freshman we are excited for, but just talking about spring- I’m excited for Jonah Lea’ea, Vili Taufatofua, and also Ka’eo Akana. All of those guys took advantage of the reps this spring and I’m excited for their growth and development.”

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 XInstagram, and Threads: @BodkinKSLsports

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Spring Ball Review: A Look At Utah Football’s Defensive Ends