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This time last year, Jackson Barton was gearing up for a senior season in which he'd help lead Brighton to the 5A state championship game.
Now he's a true freshman tackle in the Pac-12, and it speaks volumes that the following may come as a surprise to some of you:
He might not play this season.
Barton was in the mix to start at right tackle heading into the final scrimmage in camp, but Monday's depth chart shows sophomore J.J. Dielman No. 1 and sophomore Sam Tevi (until very recently, a defensive tackle) at No. 2.
"They haven't told me exactly what they want to do, but I think I'm going to redshirt," Barton said Tuesday. "I'm not looking at it as a punishment; just another year to get bigger, stronger, faster."
Barton said he still needs to improve his footwork, and he's spent 10 minutes after practices working on his kicksteps.
"I can tell these past four practices, my feet work so much better," he said.
No bitterness at end
It's been a fierce battle all fall camp between Jason Fanaika, a junior transfer from Utah State, and Hunter Dimick, a sophomore from Syracuse.
Both go about 6-foot-3, 270 pounds and cut an imposing figure, and both have been praised for their unyielding effort.
At the moment, though, it appears Dimick is likely to get the majority of the snaps. Coach Kyle Whittingham said that like the quarterback battle between Travis Wilson and Kendal Thompson, "it was a close call." He estimated Dimick will receive about two-thirds of the snaps, and Fanaika one-third.
Fanaika said Tuesday that he has a great deal of respect for Dimick.
"We both understand that every single day, we have to come in and perform at the highest of our abilities to make the team better," he said. "I trust the coaches to put in whoever's best, and that being said we're both kind of fighting at the bit, and we both want to contribute. I hope I can."
Defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake said the coaches haven't ruled out moving the ends into the rotation at defensive tackle, either. Defensive tackle Filipo Mokofisi might also see some time at end.
Junior Clint Shepard wasn't featured in too many fall camp previews, but the defensive tackle from West Valley City might just start the opener at nose tackle.
Not bad considering defensive tackle is one of Utah's most loaded positions, and Shepard spent two years as a walk-on until being awarded a scholarship just a couple weeks ago.
"The scholarship is a huge blessing to me," Shepard said. "There were times when I didn't even know how I was going to get up here from home, finding gas money."
Shepard went to Snow College out of Copper Hills High School in 2009, then served an LDS mission to New Zealand.
Weighing just 245, he took advantage of injuries to Sese Ianu, Viliseni Fauonuku, Stevie Tu'ikolovatu to open coaches' eyes this spring, and after a summer in which he gained 30 pounds and led the team with 40 bench press repetitions at 225 pounds, he's now in a three-way fight to start.
Shepard said that as one of the U.'s smaller defensive tackles, he's tried to separate himself by improving his speed and technique.
On an un-August-like day, Whittingham couldn't recall any drops from the receivers.
From what the media observed, Wilson and Thompson completed the large majority of their passes through a steady drizzle, and it was a particular struggle for Utah's defensive backs to mark Dres Anderson and Tim Patrick.
That was a nice change from the group's performance while it rained in spring, said receivers coach Taylor Stubblefield.
"A little bit more body catches when the elements are involved, but overall it was a pretty decent day."
Season opener Idaho St. at Utah
O 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 28
TV • Pac-12 Network