College Football 2011: Utah Utes' Key Losses and Their Possible Replacements
The Red and White game has passed and the long void of college football-less days begins. I hope this can keep excitement on the front burner for a little while longer.
Many key positions on the Utes squad will need filling after graduation and the NFL draft claim a number of players. The most notable losses include running backs, cornerbacks, offensive linemen and safeties.
Here are some of the losses the Utes face and the young players that have the potential to make a big impact on the 2011 season in the Pac-12 in their places.
Loss: RBs Matt Asiata, Eddie Wide III and Sausan Shakerin
For the last three years, Matt Asiata has played a huge role in the backfield. From helping lead the Utes to an undefeated 13-0 Sugar Bowl championship season to receiving a grayshirt in '09 to finish his career in '10, Asiata will be missed.
No smaller a loss is Eddie Wide III. Wide came in to replace Asiata when he suffered a knee injury in the Louisville game in 2009. Wide anchored the Utes during the last two 10-win seasons.
The biggest loss, I feel, is Sausan Shakerin. Shakerin, or "Shak," was a hard, fast runner with tons of potential. He was just a sophomore in 2010 but had to step away from the team due to concussions he accrued over his short stint with the Utes.
With these three players heading out, the Utes are breaking in all new talent essentially.
Replacement: RBs Harvey Langi and John White IV
The Utes picked up a big local recruit in RB Harvey Langi. Langi was an All-Star on an undefeated Bingham High School team.
Langi had national attention and even turned down offers from both Utah's old division rival, BYU, and soon-to-be division rival, USC, to play for the Utes. He is a powerful runner like Matt Asiata, but with much more breakaway speed in the secondary.
The "2" in Utah's 1-2 punch is 5'9'', 190 lb. speedster John White IV. Utah recruited White out of LA Harbor College after a season where he rushed for 1,500 yards and 16 touchdowns.
With a slate of Pac-12 opponents, Norm Chow will likely need a backfield by committee in the '11 season.
Loss: OLs Zane Taylor and Caleb Schlauderaff
Losing offensive linemen can be a debilitating experience for a college football team, especially if one of those linemen happens to be your starting center.
Zane Taylor (C) was an anchor for the Utes offensive line at the center position for the last four years. Taylor is a beast, proving to be the team's highest bench achiever, maxing out at 425 lbs.
Caleb Schlauderaff is another asset the Utes became accustomed to having on the line. Schlauderaff was drafted by the Green Bay Packers in the sixth round.
Replacement: OLs Isaac Asiata, Benji Kemoeatu and Po'u Palelei
With Isaac Asiata (OG) out of Spanish Fork High School leading the class, Utah is stocking up potential talent on the offensive linemen.
Asiata is the No. 15 overall recruit at his position and could see playing time if he has a good fall camp.
Benji Kemoeatu (C), younger brother of Steelers' Chris Kemoeatu (pictured here), is the fourth of the Kemoeatu brothers to play as a Ute. Kemoeatu will enter as a junior out of Lackawanna College. Talent runs in this blood stream.
Speaking of genes, Utes recruit Po'u Palelei (OL) apparently has giants for ancestors. This kid stands 6'7'', 380 lbs. Yep, 380 lbs. Good luck, defensive line.
Coach Kyle Whittingham has been vocal about a competition for spots on the O-line, as is generally the case every year, regardless of returning or lost players.
Loss: DBs Brandon Burton, Justin Taplin-Ross and Brian Blechen
This position was shaky enough as it was last year, without losing basically every starter at DB. This season it is shakier than ever.
Brandon Burton left early to the NFL, being drafted by the Minnesota Vikings in the fifth round. Burton made the play of the year, blocking BYU's last-second field-goal attempt, securing victory for the Utes.
Justin Taplin-Ross was a solid player at the free safety position last season. After spending a majority of the previous seasons learning under Robert Johnson (Tennessee Titans) and Joe Dale, Taplin-Ross' experience will be missed.
Brian Blechen (sophomore) had an impressive true-freshman season starting every game at strong safety. Blechen will still be playing for the Utes D, only next season it will be at linebacker (Blechen's true defensive position in high school). I am more than excited about this move as Blechen hits like a semitruck.
Replacement: DBs Conroy Black, Greg Bird and Committee
Again, I'm nervous about how well the Utes can get their DBs or "ATC" (Air Traffic Control, as they called themselves in '09) firing and comfortable before the season kicks off.
Conroy Black (senior) will be the leader and only DB with any significant game experience. Black also boasts a speedy 40-yard dash time of 4.42. Black was used last season as second-string CB but mostly as a nickel package DB.
Joseph Smith (sophomore) has shown some good things in practice and scrimmage. He has good hands and speed and his 36.3'' vertical screams INTs.
At safety, there will likely be a scramble during fall camp and a sure competition for the top spot. The favorite has to be Greg Bird.
Bird will be a senior and comes with high praise from safeties coach Morgan Scalley. (Bird hits fools into next week. Ask UNLV's punt return team).