Even though new UTEP coach Sean Kugler recently named Junior transfer Jameill Showers the starter, for Miner Nation there was never a question as to who would be leading the Miners out of the huddle vs UNM this Saturday.
At 6'2 220 lb and with the ability to run the 40 in 4.65 seconds, UTEP has finally found a starter to hand the keys to after two very unusual and disappointing seasons at QB under Mike Price.
Early reports and personal sightings have brought about words like smart, athletic, rocket arm, and most importantly a natural leader. The buzz is starting to build around the Killeen Shoemaker Alum within the program.
His ability to pin the ball between the numbers on the run stands out to me, and his accuracy is incredible and will only improve with game speed reps.
Now before I go and give him the Heisman there is some cause for concern, at least early on. While he has been on a college roster for the past three seasons and had 49 pass attempts as an Aggie, he hasn't started a meaningful game since his Junior year in high school.
This is his second new offensive system in two years, making the transition from Kevin Sumlin's (via Mike Price) spread offense back to the Pro-Style offense he was first recruited to play in under former A&M Coach Mike Sherman.
I believe Showers is definitely mature and football smart, enough to make the transitions he has gone through as painless as possible. The reality is there will be growing pains in the first couple of games, but I believe his athletic ability and the wow factor he has shown through camp and practice can help him overcome them.
Behind Showers is San Antonio native Blaire Sullivan; the Sophomore who took 102 snaps from center last year is a decent back up, but is still developing in this new offense. He does have the physical ability to be the guy if needed, as Miner fans saw last year.
A name Miner fans might want to remember for the future is freshman Mack Leftwich. He went 30-1 as a starter in high school and led his school to a number #4 national ranking last season as well. At 5'11 180 lb he was overlooked by recruiting gurus and websites, but the kid can flat out play QB.
He will lead the scout team and take a red-shirt this season, but he has stood out in camp and even drew praise from Kugler about his ability to move the offense in the team's last scrimmage. He will develop into a fine player and everyone should be excited about his future.
Running Backs A-
Junior Nathan Jeffery returns after being the Miners' second leading yard gainer from a season ago. Miner fans know plenty about his ability to be a game changer as well as a workhorse. The key for him is to stay healthy, but so far he has been nagged by turf toe and his hamstring.
Keeping him healthy might not be a hard task with depth the Miners posses at this position. True freshman Aaron Jones #29 is penciled in as the team's number two, and if you've been following El Paso high school football the past two years you know what this kid can do. He had a very solid camp and will make plays both running and catching out of the backfield.
The backfield depth doesn't stop there. Sophomore Autrey Golden returns, now wearing #8, and like this group as a whole, he had a great camp and will benefit from the new two back scheme.
The Miners also return junior Josh Bell and sophomore LaQuintus Dowell who each had 30+ carries last year. Expect to see all five in the mix as Kugler has said they will all get carries this season.
Can't forget about the new position on the Miner offense: Fullback. Darrin Laufasa #30 will be the starter, one of many true freshman who will contribute and see action this season.
Now while he is not Mike Allstott size, he has great speed for a FB, great technique and is explosive in his blocks. He doesn't look lost; he looks confident and always picks up his assignments.
Behind him will be junior Hunter Nix who played defense last year. Bell has also seem some reps at full back and could see some action there as well, in a more of a pass catching role.
This group is led by junior Jordan Leslie who is a member of the Biletnikoff pre-season watch list. Leslie could very well be a top NFL prospect with the addition of Showers as the two have demonstrated a great chemistry and have looked the part of a great QB to WR tandem.
UTEP RECEIVER JORDAN LESLIE:
"Me and Jamiell have practiced a lot during the summer when he first got here. We were going about 3 or 4 times a week so we got the timing down, coming out to camp and practice we showed the big plays so hopefully we have a lot of big plays"'
The Miners second receiver, or "X" receiver is Junior Ian Hamilton. At 6'5 230 lb, with freakish speed for his size, I expect and am willing to predict Hamilton will have a breakout season.
He can obviously go up and get it, but to me he is a way better route runner with the smooth strides he uses; he just needs looks and targets in his direction. You all will see he is clearly the one the best athletes on the field when he lines up.
Juniors Malcolm Trail, Devin Patterson, and Jim Jones will all be in the mix as reserves, and will fill in the gaps if the Miners go wide or spread WR's.
Depth is a huge concern in my view and its a concern for me early on, despite Leslie's experience and talent. Realistically, only Trail and Patterson have seen a lot of playing time as a receiver.
Though most of them have been in the program and have contributed on special teams, they are unproven as wideouts. Someone will need to emerge as a reliable target for Showers.
Tight Ends B+
One of the most unique things about this Miner football team is the mix of talent and playing styles of the Miner tight ends. The first two listed on the depth chart is senior Craig Wenrick and 6-7 junior Eric Tomlinson.
HEAD COACH SEAN KUGLER:
"The tight ends will be a heavy emphasis in our offense, you'll definitely see one tight end on the field at all times. Sometime you'll see two, three or four tight ends on the field at the same time. We're not going to be shy about it."
Of course, the Miners return fan favorite senior Kevin Perry who tried his hand at tackle in camp, but moved back over a spot soon thereafter. He gives the Miners a big physical body in the red zone and in the running game. Combined, the Miner trio of veterans have 21 starts, with 50 career catches, 674 yards and 7 touchdowns.
The guy out of the group I really like the most is junior Katrae Ford #19 out of Houston. He is tall with great hands and runs like a wide out. I can see this kid really having an impact if he can take advantage when his name is called. With so many bodies, he needs to make the most of his snaps.
Outside of the main cogs junior transfer Mark Emerton #86 and freshman Cole Rogers #89 are listed as reserves. Haven't seen much out of them so far, but if coach is true to his word we'll find out about them real soon.
OFFENSIVE LINE C+
Up front the Miners will average 6'4 298 lb with their 5 listed starters. The majority of that average is contributed to the Calgary Stampedes first round pick, Brander Craighead.
The 6'7 300 pound Canadian will anchor Showers blindside. He is very athletic with very quick feet and lots of experience. He could possibly be a NFL pick or get scooped up as an un-drafted free agent depending on his play this season.
Playing opposite of Craighead is fellow senior Mike Amdall who measures in at 6'5 320 lb. Its going to be interesting to see how they both benefit and adjust from blocking downhill now.
After having wider splits in previous schemes, they are a lot closer to the guards now, and will trap and pull on some formations. That will be something to keep an eye on, and can even help Craighead's draft stock.
The guards will be juniors Jerel Watkins and Kyle Brown. Both are athletic and similar in size and will be relied upon heavily in the run game. I wasn't too impressed to be honest, but they both have had their moments.
With the Miners using so many tight ends and extra blockers, they can afford to double team with the tackles and junior center Paulo Mendez, out of Horizon, to compensate and adjust as the plays go on.
They need to stay healthy up front because there isn't much to talk about behind the starters. The Miners have three freshmen backing up left tackle, guard, and center. Senior James Robinson will also be in the mix at guard as he has worked with the first team at times.
DEFENSIVE LINE B
In adjusting to 4-2-5 scheme, the Miners will rely heavily on the front 7 to plug the running lanes. Defensive coordinator Scott Stoker inherited a veteran and very talented group.
Ends Adam Ayala and James Davidson, both seniors, return as starters, and are very much improved. They should prove to be huge factors up front.
Ayala came in as a freshman and was highly regarded. In my eyes he has lived up to those expectations, and I really think he will end his career in a very solid fashion.
Seniors Germard Reed and Marcus Bagley will bang up the middle with Bagley at the nose. Bagley looks like he worked hard in the offseason, and looks leaner and quicker.
Reed will need to stay healthy and on the field as much as possible along with Bagley. Excuse my inner Mel Kiper, but Reed has a high motor, plays very hard and gets the D going. If he can stay healthy, the Miners look good up front.
Behind the senior laden group of starters on the ends, junior Cooper Brock and 6'7 240 sophomore Roy Robertson-Harris #43 will be in the rotation. I like Robertson-Harris a lot. His size is obvious, and he is just a really physical player.
In the middle, a pair of freshmen in Silas Firstley #54 and Devante Richardson #95 will spell Bagley and Reed when needed. The coaches have talked highly of these youngins throughout camp. I really like Richardson with his size, but they both will have a chance early and often.
Entering the 2013 campaign the Miners are very thin at linebacker. They are led by hard working junior Anthony Puente who is the leader on defense and looks to crack the 100 tackle mark.
One other who will contribute and see a lot of playing time is senior A.J. Ropati, who started 7 games last year and was 5th on the team in tackles. He is listed as the Mike backer, backing up Puente, but he will see time at the Will as well as all the Miner linebackers can play both spots.
Making the switch from DE to LB is senior Horace Miller. He led the Miners with 6 sacks a season ago, and will now stand up and provide the Miners with depth. Coach Kugler has talked about having the best athletes on the field and this is clearly and example of that.
Miller will still put is hand on the ground in 3rd down situations which should give the Miners that extra spark rushing the passer. Sophomore Trey Brown #35 will be the main reserve. A former three star recruit, he played in 9 games last year. His role will expand this season, and he will be the future at the LB spot.
DEFENSIVE BACKS C+
The most intriguing group on the 2013 Miners' defense is the DB's. They are deep and talented, but largely unproven, but I do think they will be a solid group as the season goes along.
The leader is junior Wesley Miller who has had a great camp and will hold down the strong safety spot. Behind him is freshman Leon Hayes #42 who will be in the rotation as the Miners will now have three safeties lining up the defensive backfield.
Free safety is loaded with the return of senior Richard Spencer and junior Traun Roberson. Roberson will also see time at corner. They both have had rough camps, dealing with injuries, so keeping these guys healthy is imperative. Roberson will start the year with a cast on his arm, and Spencer has been limited with knee and hamstring issues.
Corner will see some new and fresh faces emerge. Junior Adrian James returns after an injury riddled season last year, and will start at one corner. But, from what I've seen so far, there will be a rotation mixed with young freshman.
DEFENSIVE BACKS COACH ROBERT RODRIGUEZ:
"Right now we're asking a lot of young guys to step in because we need that depth. You can't recruit in one season to get enough for 10 defensive backs. But the young guys have done a tremendous job."
Sophomore Ishmael Harrison will be the guy at the other corner after making the switch from WR. We'll also see JUCO transfer sophomore Nick Gathrite #7 who looked solid in the spring game. True freshman Quinton Tezeno #20, and his fellow West Orange Stark High School alum Da'Carlos Renfro # 26 will also see time as a safety and corner.
The weak side safety is the extra safety that will line up in the new 4-2-5 look with Riverside JUCO transfer Jameel Erving #22 being the guy who won this spot during camp. You will also see junior Robert Spencer #31, sophomore Demarcus Kizzie and true freshman Devin Cockrell #27.
The one thing I like about these guys is the versatility of all of them. We could see multiple guys at multiple spots, but the key will be to find a consistent rotation meaning someone will have to step up and make plays to earn an every down spot.
SPECIAL TEAMS C+
The biggest question heading into camp was the kicking situation. Freshman Jay Mattox #47 won the kicking job, but the kid has a long way to go. His range is 35-40 yards in practice but the real test is game day. I hope he can improve with playing time as the Miners will need him early in the season.
Handling the punting duties will be former Chapin standout freshman Brandon Moss #6. Coach Kugler didn't want to have Mattox handling all three kicking duties, so he pulled his red-shirt and he will now punt. The Miners are obviously weak here, and I hope its doesn't cost us any ball games.
In the return game, the Miners will gave Autrey Golden on kickoffs, who was ranked 11th nationally in yards per return last year. You will also see Ishmael Harrison and Aaron Jones, but Golden is clearly the main guy.
Sure handed Jim Jones will handle punt returns. Coach Kugler told me after the recent mock game that Jones is the guy, but I think you will also see Aaron Jones, Golden, and senior Jarrad Shaw #88 in certain situations.
Jim Jones will also be the holder and sophomore Nick Dooley will handle the long snapping.
Now its hard gauge how good they will be by just watching practice, and while I'm not going to predict an exact final record, I do expect this team to be very competitive and likely somewhere in 4-5 win range, with a 6 win season or better surely not out of the question. Especially with the first three games being very "winnable".
This season will be a growing year, and I do expect the Miners to compete for a C-USA title next year, but right now we need to patient and watch the development of all the new faces. If Kugler can put this all together, the Miners will compete at the top of the C-USA the next two seasons.