Areas of need: Offensive line and secondary
Current situation: Utah must replace a lot of talent across the board entering 2017, but there are two position groups that will be particularly decimated by departures. Aside from losing four of five starting offensive linemen, the Utes also face massive gaps in the secondary, where five key players are gone.
Road-grading guard Isaac Asiata, massive tackle Garett Bolles, JJ Dielman, Nick Nowakowski, and Sam Tevi have all left the Utah offensive line. That unit was one of this team's major strengths in 2016; it helped pave the way for running back Joe Williams' blistering comeback from retirement, during which he rushed for at least 149 yards in six of seven games. Right guard Salesi Uhatafe is the line's only returning starter.
The Utes also lose all but one starter in the secondary. Cornerbacks Dominique Hatfield, Reggie Porter and Brian Allen are gone, as are safety Marcus Williams and nickelback Justin Thomas. Only safety Chase Hansen returns in that group.
Utah leads the country in takeaways over the past two seasons, and its departing defensive backs are a huge part of that: Williams, Allen, Porter and Hatfield combined for 12 interceptions in 2016. New players will be counted on to maintain the turnover-creating tradition in Salt Lake City, and they'll also have to do that behind a reconstructed pass rush.
Plan moving forward: Uhatafe will be counted on to lead Utah's new-look offensive line. Center Lo Falemaka and tackle Jackson Barton are in line to be replacements at those positions, while guard Darrin Paulo and Johnny Capra are two more names to watch as position battles unfold this offseason. The Utes recently netted the commitment of 6-foot-5, 340-pound junior college tackle Jordan Agasiva, a behemoth who should be able to contribute immediately and replace Bolles -- another juco transfer.
The situation in the secondary seems even less settled. The Utes will turn to youngsters there, and they hope that 2016 provided a valuable learning experience for them. Julian Blackmon, Terrell Burgess, and Nygel King are three youngsters who will be in the mix for time in 2017. Defensive back Boobie Hobbs should provide some senior leadership for the secondary, while Hansen returns three interceptions to the strong safety position.
Utah has long hung its hat on a strong pass rush -- see the "Sack Lake City" phenomenon and the fact that the Utes have led the country in average sacks per game (3.4) over the past four seasons. It'll be critical to keep up that pressure on opposing quarterbacks while new faces get acclimated in the secondary.