In every skill position that this column previews (QB's, RB's, Receivers, TE's & Kickers); Miner Nation is well represented. Interestingly enough, even from players that have yet to play a single down in the Orange & Blue.
QUARTERBACKS: 6. Trevor VIttatoe, Sr. UTEP
The quest of the 6-2, 220-pound senior to rebound from his worst season as a Miner is off to a rocky start. After being suspended for the first six practices of spring, he missed the tail end following minor shoulder surgery. UTEP needs to see the old Vittatoe from 2007 and 2008 rather than the one that sunk to 224-of-409 for 3,308 yards, 17 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions. His numbers were inflated by a huge final game against Marshall that somewhat glossed over an otherwise inconsistent year. Usually accurate and poised in the pocket, he was too often erratic and missed a lot of open receivers.
RUNNING BACKS: 1. Donald Buckram, Sr. UTEP
The singular bright spot in last year’s 4-8 campaign was the improbable eruption of the 5-10, 195-pound senior into a contender for national awards. Oft-injured throughout his career, he finally put it all together for a dozen games, rushing for a school-record 1,594 yards and 18 touchdowns on 259 carries. He also added 30 catches for 453 yards and three scores to lead the country in yards from scrimmage. One of the fastest players in El Paso, he’s a slasher, who isn’t afraid to run between the tackles and does a surprisingly nice job of bouncing off tacklers.
RECEIVERS: 11. Kris Adams, Sr. UTEP
The decline suffered by the 6-3, 195-pound senior a year ago was consistent with that of the entire passing game and QB Trevor Vittatoe. And like his battery mate, he’s looking to recapture the form he had two years. In 2008, he caught 14 touchdown passes, but slipped to just 42 catches for 580 yards and two scores. A rangy acrobat, who’ll go high up to snatch balls out of the air, he has the long stride to get behind the secondary.
TIGHT ENDS: 8. Jonny Moore, Sr. UTEP
The staff is hopeful that the 6-5, 250-pound Moore is able to bounce back from a dislocated shoulder suffered in the spring. A better receiver than a blocker, with the size to out muscle defenders, he caught a career-high 13 passes for 135 yards and a touchdown.
KICKERS: 9. Dakota Warren, Soph. UTEP
With a kicker and a punter needed to be replaced, UTEP hopes to have filled both positions with one stroke of the pen. In February, the Miners signed Warren out of Ventura (Calif.) College, hoping he can handle two jobs. He has good leg strength and naturally ability, and should be an asset on kickoffs.