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UTSA is still moving Venly Tatafu to LT in the O-line rearrangement


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    Offensive linemen Venly Tatafu (center) and Buffalo Kruize (50) take part in drills as UTSA holds football practice at the Roadrunner Athletics Center of Excellence on Friday, Aug. 4, 2023.
    Offensive linemen Venly Tatafu (center) and Buffalo Kruize (50) take part in drills as UTSA holds football practice at the Roadrunner Athletics Center of Excellence on Friday, Aug. 4, 2023.Kin Man Hui/Staff photographer

    Amid a second season of frequent turnover on the offensive line, UTSA quarterback Frank Harris has given up on figuring out who is lined up where. 

    With as many as five potential starters at tackle going down to injury last season, UTSA rifled through an array of options, turning to walk-on Frankie Martinez and converted defensive tackle Walker Baty. The 2023 season has been no less tumultuous through five games, with the Roadrunners looking to four different starting combinations along the offensive line.  

    “If I’m being honest, I never know who plays what position because they move so much,” Harris said. “I just know that those guys are going to take care of business and protect me.”  

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    The loss of all-conference tackle Makai Hart to injury during the second game of the season kicked off this year’s shuffle, bringing Luke Lapeze into the fold at center so Ernesto Almaraz could slide to right tackle.  

    Newcomer Cory Godinet started to earn a role at guard as Terrell Haynes was limited by an injury, and when coach Jeff Traylor decided he wanted Godinet and Haynes to play together, Venly Tatafu moved from guard to tackle for the first time this season in last week’s win against Temple. 

    While Traylor acknowledged that finding a solidified group up front would be a boost for communication, he said the Roadrunners feel they have eight or nine players who could be worthy of playing time, with competition ongoing to find the optimal lineup.   

    “It’s always about the best five,” Traylor said. “It’s how can we get our most efficient, best five on the field. Right now, we feel like that’s where we are.”  

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    Tatafu was one of the players most impacted by last year’s shuffle, entering the program as a transfer from Independence (Kan.) Community College and starting UTSA’s first six games at left tackle — a position he had never played before.  

    With improved depth and health along the offensive front during preseason camp, Tatafu moved back to what Traylor called his more natural position at guard. 

    Though Tatafu said during the preseason that he felt more comfortable and confident returning to the interior spot he’d played most of his life, he showed no hesitation sliding from left guard back to the left tackle role he started to learn in 2022.  

    “It was a little different, but it’s still smooth, because I played it last year,” Tatafu said. “Just getting used to it again, trying to get right for the team. … I can play anywhere, so when he said move out there, it was just no questions asked, go out there.” 

    Tatafu practiced almost exclusively at guard through fall camp, he said, but he fell back on his experience and the fundamentals he learned at tackle last season.  

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    UTSA Roadrunners quarterback Frank Harris (0) gets blocking from offensive lineman Venly Tatafu (75) on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022 at Darrell K Royal Memorial Stadium. Texas defeated UTSA 41-20

    UTSA Roadrunners quarterback Frank Harris (0) gets blocking from offensive lineman Venly Tatafu (75) on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022 at Darrell K Royal Memorial Stadium. Texas defeated UTSA 41-20

    Ronald Cortes

    While playing guard requires him to stay low and firm in his base to tussle with larger players on the interior, Tatafu said tackle is more about being light on his feet, and his time at the position in 2022 prepared him for the speed of edge rushers.  

    “Last year, I had no experience at all,” Tatafu said. “Now I feel I have a little more experience. I can be poised in the noise and be chillin'.”  

    Traylor said Tatafu performed “really well” in his first action of the season at tackle, adding that shuffling usual starting left tackle Baty down the depth chart created an opening for Godinet at guard.  

    Tatafu described the 6-foot-5, 350-pound transfer from Trinity Valley Community College as a “big boy” who is “about straight physicality,” and Traylor said Godinet is “just a kid that’s worked hard and gotten better each week” since his arrival.    

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    “We had to get our five best offensive linemen on the field, and Cory was one of the five best, and he played that way,” Traylor said.  

    Hart’s injury in mid-September was projected to keep him out about six weeks, and the Roadrunners are also hoping for improved health from Demetris Allen and a handful of other depth options who are yet to see the field this year, including touted JUCO newcomer Buffalo Kruize.  

    With the makeup of the depth chart potentially changing, Traylor left the door open to the possibility of continued shuffling.  

    Harris may not always know precisely who is throwing the blocks up front, but as long as UTSA’s offense can produce performances like Saturday’s 49-34 win over Temple, he isn’t too worried about sorting the group out. 

    “They did a great job of protecting me, and they did a great job of creating holes for the running backs as well,” Harris said. “Hats off for those guys for always showing up and showing out. They don’t get no credit, but I think they deserve all the credit.”   

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    |Updated

    Greg Luca is the UTSA beat reporter and general assignment reporter for the San Antonio Express-News. In addition to UTSA, his coverage includes the University of Incarnate Word, the San Antonio Missions and other San Antonio area colleges. He is a 2013 graduate of the University of Florida and a native of Connecticut. He was the sports editor of the McAllen Monitor from 2014-18.

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