Elliss Plans To Use Defensive Tackle Depth To Advantage

Aug 16, 2022, 2:31 PM
Elliss coaching up his defensive line. The Utes have a proud history of strong defensive tackle play that dates back to Elliss' time as a player. (Photo Courtesy of Utah Athletics.)
(Photo Courtesy of Utah Athletics.)

SALT LAKE CITY- Luther Elliss was a force at defensive tackle during the early-to-mid ’90s for the Utes. In fact, having a deep, aggressive defensive line has been Utah’s bread and butter in college football for a long time. Just look at the names the Utes have produced to the NFL over the years.

Now back at his alma mater as a coach, Elliss plans on being smart with the talent available to him. Look for rotations of guys to keep them fresh and to defend against various downs, distances, and situations the Utes may find themselves in rather than a set depth chart.

Defensive Tackle Legend To Defensive Tackle Coach

After spending a few years up in Idaho coaching the defensive line at Idaho University, Elliss is back at his old stomping grounds and loving it. Elliss knows the expectations of the group he’s inherited are high and sees it as an honor he’s being trusted with it as a coach.

“It’s an honor. It’s a privilege to be able to do it,” Ellis said. “Just because of the tradition and history we have here of great defensive line play, and coaching that’s taken place here. The bar is high, but I’m very excited about the opportunity and we have great players. If you want to be a great coach, you need great players and we have great players here.”

 God-Given Talent At Defensive Tackle

Elliss has a lot of talent to work with and guys that he’s trying to squeeze every ounce of greatness out of. One such player is Devin Kaufusi.

“Devin has a lot going for him,” Elliss said. “He has length, he has size- he has a lot of things he brings to the table and so right now he’s going to be in that rotation. He’s fighting for a starting job right now. He’s trying to take it over and do those things. I’m just really looking for him to use those tools that God has given him.”

Tevita Fotu is the younger brother of recent great, Leki Fotu, and another guy that Elliss is hoping to push along because of the potential he’s already shown.

“He’s continuing to get better every day,” Elliss said. “He’s becoming more consistent and it’s not just him- it’s across the board. They all need to be more consistent with our play daily. He’s doing a great job for us and I look forward to him doing a lot of good things for us this year. He’s very explosive. Very quick and very active. Especially in the pass rush. It’s probably his best asset right now the way he rushes the passer. I see him as a guy who should be in that rotation and helping us to get the W’s on Saturdays.”

Finally, Junior Tafuna came on quickly last season as a freshman after Viane Moala was lost for the season. Elliss is confident Tafuna has what it takes to be even better than he was in 2021 which was pretty good.

“He had a great year last year and more importantly he’s a great young man,” Elliss said. “He has a strong character, strong will- he wants to be great. Any time you have those traits in a person or player it makes it that much easier to coach them. Biggest thing right now is to use those gifts and talent he has consistently. Just continue to use his strength to knock back, he has quickness for his size and right now as a front we are trying to work on our pad-level and being consistent with our hand placement. Once he gets better at those things- not that’s bad, it’s just continuing to get better at that, he will take even another greater step than he was last year.”

If You Got It, Flaunt It

Elliss is big on the variety of body-types and specialties his group has to work with. So much so, Elliss is already talking about the different ways and combinations he can throw out on the field at any given moment.

“We have a wide range of guys- guys from 6′ to I think Devin is 6’7″,” Elliss said. “You have height and length- different things you can bring in short yards, goal line. You probably don’t want Devin in there as much because he naturally needs to rise up and be high. You want more pluggers in there. Third and long type stuff you want your best pass rushers in there and we have guys who can get off the rock and do things well there.”

The variety of talent also plays into useable depth for the Utes. Rather than running a few guys ragged throughout a game, Elliss says he’s perfectly happy with the idea of rotating everyone out to keep guys at their best.

“I’m a guy that believes in keeping them fresh,” Elliss said. “Give me everything you’ve got every single play and then if you need a break, come take a break. We want our best out there and if you’re going at 70% or even 80%, that’s not your best. Let someone else come in that can give 100% and give their best so we don’t have a drop-off or we don’t miss something, or we don’t allow ourselves to be blocked because we are 100%.”

Line In The Sand

One of the bigger knocks on Utah’s defensive line last season was that they at times struggled to get the push they needed to be disruptive. If Elliss has his way, that won’t be an issue in 2022. Elliss is aiming for his defensive line to be the ones calling the shots and moving the line of scrimmage.

“First and foremost we want to get knock-back,” Elliss said. “We’ve got to create a new line of scrimmage. Any offense- especially the offensive line hates when we create havoc by knocking them back so you want to get great knock-back. The way you do that is great pad-level and great hands. Inside hands will the majority of the time even if you have a little bit of high pad-level, but we have to have great pad-level, we’ve got to have great hands, and we’ve got to get off the ball.”

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Elliss Plans To Use Defensive Tackle Depth To Advantage