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UTEP Football: Meet the Defense/Special Teams

UTEP Defense - Projected Starters
UTEP Defense - Projected Starters

Last week we went over our projections of the starters and reserves on the offensive side of the ball. This week, we'll go ahead and look at both the defense and the special teams. And, with Andre Patterson now in his 3rd year, and a couple of special teamers poised for all conference runs, we could be in for a solid year.

First up on the defense, is the line. In my opinion, this will be the group that will have to set the tone, if this defensive unit is going to have a successful season. And, it starts with junior DT Germard Reed, and junior DE Horace Miller. In 2011, Miller led the team in sacks with 5, and Reed was second with 4.

Opposite of Miller and Reed, are junior DT Marcus Bagley, and senior DE Greg Watkins. Watkins led all defensive linemen in tackles last year with 38, and also added 3 sacks. Bagley racked up 21 tackles, to go along with 3 QB hurries.

Here is a mock depth chart for the defensive line:

Defensive Tackle Defensive End
JR. - Germard Reed JR. - Horace Miller
JR. - Marcus Bagley SR. - Greg Watkins
JR. - Adam Ayala JR. - James Davidson
SR. - Ruben Munoz SO. - Cooper Brock
FR. - Devante Richardson FR. - Roy Robertson

Next up are the linebackers. While the defensive line and secondary both return a couple of starters and key reserves, the linbacking corp will actually be the most experienced unit for the defense. The first piece to that puzzle: senior Jamie Irving. Irving led the LBs in tackles (79) in 2010, but missed just about all of 2011 due to injury.

Irving will be back to take over the starting role at the middle linebacker position, playing alongside senior Josh Fely and senior Aubrey Alexius. Fely, who will start at weakside linebacker, actually came in third on the team in tackles last year (61, also 3 sacks), despite playing more of a reserve role.

Alexius will start on the strong side, and brings quite a bit of experience as well. He battled through injury last year, but is one who has played significant minutes through each of his first three years with the Miners. Guys like junior AJ Ropati, and sophomore Anthony Puente should also be competing for playing time in 2012.

Here is a mock depth chart for the linebackers

SR. - Jamie Irving
SR. - Josh Fely
SR. - Aubrey Alexius
JR. - AJ Ropati
SO. - Anthony Puente
SO. - DeAndre Little

The last group on the defense is the secondary. Unfortunately for this group, gone are guys like Antwon Blake, and Travaun Nixon. But, back are are two solid starters in FS DeShawn Grayson and CB Drew Thomas. Both are seniors, and together they will bring stability and experience in the secondary.

Senior Richard Spencer, who is now in his fourth year with the Miners, should get the starting job at the strong safety position. Starting opposite of Thomas, will be fellow senior Darren Woodard, who will have some big shoes to fill in stepping in for the departed Antwon Blake.

Much like the linebackers, this unit will start all seniors. Also look for senior S Derrick Morgan, and sophomore CB Traun Roberson to make a big impact in the secondary as well.

Here is a mock depth chart for the secondary:

Cornerbacks Safeties
SR. - Drew Thomas SR. - DeShawn Grayson
SR. - Darren Woodard SR. - Richard Spencer
SO. - Traun Roberson SR. - Derrick Morgan
JR. - Adrian James SO. - Wesley Miller
FR. - DaShone Smith

Overall, this defensive unit will have to replace a ton of production from 2011, after losing 7 of its 11 starters. However, considering there is so much experience returning, this unit should be just as good, if not better than last year's.

But, the one thing to consider is that the defense will have its plate full...from week 1. They will have to figure out how to stop Landry Jones in week 1, and Montee Ball in week 4, and a handful of other powerful offensive players throughout the year. Much like the offense though, if they can stay healthy, they should be in for a solid year.

Last, but not least, will be the special teams. And, by special teams, I mean senior P Ian Campbell, senior K Dakota Warren, and sophomore K Steven Valadez.

Campbell is an absolute stud punter, and has a great shot to make first team All Conference this year, and possible even more. Last year, he finished fourth nationally, with an average of 46.1 yards a punt, and was a second team All Conference selection, and a Ray Guy award semifinalist. He has already been named to the Ray Guy watch list for 2012.

Warren had a solid sophomore campaign, but struggled in his junior year, opening the door for Valadez. They enter 2012 as co-starters. However, if Warren can get back to his old form, I would expect him to handle field goals and extra points, while Valadez will take kickoffs. Valadez will then be the secondary field goal kicker, as well as the backup punter.

All in all, the Miners' special teams units in 2012 should be a strength for the team, especially when it comes to Campbell. Assuming everything goes as expected, he should once again be one of the top punters in the nation, and will truly be a weapon for the team.

Overall, this UTEP team will have a ton to work with in 2012. It won't be an easy road, but after talking to QB Nick Lamaison last week, it really seems like they are ready for a solid season. I've said 6-6 would probably be a fair expectation, but taking everything into consideration, 7-5, and possible better could still be in reach.

It'll be interesting to see how they put it all together, and if they can stay healthy and maintain their composure throughout a rough non-conference slate. No matter what though, should be a fun season. Can't wait. Go Miners!