Defense Shows Strides In Spring Game

Ivan Pierre Aguirre-USA TODAY Sp

What can be summarized as a glorified practice session, the UTEP Football team held their Spring Game Friday night with the defense making the most noise.

Head coach Sean Kugler guided his team through numerous situation drills, including goal-line, redzone, third down, fourth and short looks in Friday's Spring Game.

The defense took center stage with Nick Usher leading two of UTEP's three sacks.  Nick Gathrite returned an interception 92 yards in the goal line portion, while Adrian James scooped a fumble 100 yards for a score also in the goal line session.

Jameill Showers played NFL pre-season snaps, Showers went 4/7 for 44 yards during the 12 play ones versus ones portion of the night.  Aaron Jones was also on a pitch count per say with only one carry.  He did get the best of his brother Alvin in a LB vs RB one on one drill, hauling in a nice deep ball from freshman and Andress Alum Ryan Metz for a score.

Nathan Jeffery was also limited in his touches but saw plenty of reps.  Jeffery broke a screen 19 yards in the redzone situation, while Autrey Golden broke open a 26 yard screen pass open on UTEP's early 12 play drive, and would later hit paydirt on a two yard run during goal line situation work.

Garrett Simpson stood out among the candidates fighting for the backup quarterback spot.  Simpson finished the night 7/13 for 104 yards, including a TD strike from 18 yards out to tight end Cole Rogers in a drill where the Miners had to drive 40 yards in 53 seconds.   Simpson found Rogers in their last chance with only 1.1 seconds left to win the drill.

Other standouts were converted linebacker Alvin Jones who broke free and sacked Mack Leftwich on the first play of their second team reps of 12 plays from the offense's 20 yard line. Jimmy Musgrave showed some much needed explosion, and bang in between gaps on run plays from the Mike backer.  Jones also made a huge stop on a 4th and 1 situation where the offense lined up at the 50 yard line, slashing into a quickly closing gap to make the halt.

Senior middle linebacker Anthony Puente has greatly improved his footwork in the run stop game, by my unofficial count he had six solo tackles throughout the workout, and was very physical in the short yardage challenges.

The negatives were UTEP's receivers not able to break free from their defenders and lack of big plays, though it should be noted that UTEP secondary looks vastly improved with at least five pass break ups, but could still use some help at the corner spot depth wise.

Freshman receiver Jaquan White did have a nice catch across the middle where he leveled a defender and dragged a couple more into the endzone during the second team redzone situation.

The offense was fairly efficient in the redzone, and goal line portions, scoring six touchdowns in the goal line situations, and easily got inside the five on the redzone work a few times.

Ball security was an issue in short yard situations throughout the workout, though some could be credited to UTEP's possibly new found identity on defense of forcing turnovers which was absent last year.

Washington State transfer Jeremiah Laufasa was UTEP's leading rusher, scoring two rushing TD's in the redzone, while gaining 33 yards on six carries, though did cough one up.   UTEP aired the ball out more than usual with the young quarterbacks vying for a depth chart spot.

Overall the improvements are there in basic technique defensively, but plenty of work is still needed largely inside the offensive line, and a receiver or two has to emerge as a constant first down, or home run threat for the offense to be consistent, but as a ray of positive light, tight end Eric Tomlinson was playing in mid-season form in his reps of action.

Fall camp starts in El Paso on August 4th before the Miners head to Alpine August 6th through the 14th, while there is some hope for optimism, holes are still there, but this spring was a step in the right direction for respectability.

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