At the start of the 2013 season the UTEP offense was firing on all cylinders, particularly in the run, and controlling the line of scrimmage phases of the game. Then injuries hit and UTEP's offense looked like a 1990's version of the Miner offense.
Most could point the finger to the injury of signal caller Jameill Showers who missed majority of the ladder part of the season, but the mix up on the offensive line due to some injuries there as well was another mishap that hurt the Miners offensive production.
Jerel Watkins became a stronghold on the offensive line from the start of the season until he missed a few games in October, prompting a shift in personnel up front that hurt the Miners dearly after the Rice game.
Statistically speaking UTEP was pretty solid in the TFL's allowed portion with only 65 plays stopped behind the line of scrimmage, second in the C-USA behind Middle Tennessee, while also paving the way for Aaron Jones and Nathan Jeffery to rush for over 1,000 yards combined.
The Miner offensive line unit allowed 26 sacks on 169 QB drop backs, which isn't terrible figuring another run first team Rice allowed 37 sacks on 177 pass attempts, but more balanced teams and better offensive lines like Tulsa only allowed 10 sacks on 210 pass attempts, and North Texas allowed 11 sacks given up on 261 passes attempted.
Sacks usually came on 3rd down, or 2nd and long situations, which ended up being huge since UTEP doesn't throw very much on early downs. Improvement is needed on obvious pass downs, which parlays into play calling as UTEP was very predictable when it came to pass plays.
This is where having your offensive coordinator, and your offensive scheme fully installed throughout the spring and summer makes a huge difference, something that helped the Miners improve certain aspects in the spring game, but the Miner defense exposed a few weaknesses.
Picking up blitzes is going to be a key in winning a job on the offensive line this camp, since the Miners are run first, on most passing plays the defense pinned its ears back and always had something cooking from a blitz standpoint to disrupt a passing play. Recognizing that and making on the line checks has to improve to keep Showers upright and the ball moving downfield.
Improvements to me for this unit are not needed on the field as much as the preparation in the film room is at this point.
The Miners will have a new center Eric Lee whom the center is usually in charge of line calls at the line, and protection shifts that need to be made when the defense shows an obvious wrinkle.
Paulo Melendez moves over to right guard from center, while Waktins moves to the ever important role of left tackle, and Christian Harper who saw time late in the year last season at right tackle will man that spot this season.
Leaving the left guard spot a vacancy for now, but plenty of solid candidates are in the wings.
Will Hernandez and Derek Elemendorff are listed as or's on the depth chart at left guard, but don't be surprised if you see a true freshman making noise in camp while getting a shot to start right away.
Elemendorff is probably the best overall athlete with the tools for the gig and would have my nod for the spot, but could he missing the spring game play into his standing for the vacant spot?
Hernandez and Elemendorff are both redshirt freshman who bring size, athleticism and experience of having a year of the offensive system under their belt, making that competition a headline in Camp Alpine.
Names of some true freshman like Christopher Misaalefua, Chris Jones, and Jerrod Brooks could all be a good series of reps in camp away from making their way into the competition for left guard as well.
The offensive line was at its peak during drives where the Miners were running over eight play scoring drives; mostly downhill runs were being called, with short passes across the middle also being utilized.
It seemed as if once in rhythm the offensive line clicked and holes opened, but once a pass was incomplete or a run stuffed, it was back to square one and the line struggled for consistency thereafter. Mainly due to on field adjustments players were not experienced or not sure what to call or adjust.
Now having been under Patrick Higgins system for a full year, I would expect that rhythm to improve, along with some more creativity in play calling to not make the offense so predicable when it's time for Showers to make a play, which to me makes the offensive lines job much harder when the defense knows what's coming no matter what play you have dialed up.
At times last year the offensive line was the strength of the offense, the current has a lot of gelling and continuity to find in camp with a huge shuffle since the end of last season, but with the weapons UTEP has in the skill positions, the unit will once again be a key part into helping the play develop and to keep the chains moving.
-Quicker explosion off the ball on passing downs
-Trust, chemistry and leadership HAVE to emerge
Things to keep an eye on
-Left guard position battle
-Could a freshman work his way into the mix?
-Could a bad week of reps during camp change the current depth chart?
-Jerel Watkins possible rise as a NFL prospect
Offensive Line Depth Chart
|#69-Jerel Watkins, Sr. 6'3 300 lbs
|#75-Derek Elemendorrf, Fr. 6'3 315 lbs or #76 Will Hernandez, Fr, 6'3 315 lbs
|#60-Eric Lee, Jr, 6'1 300 lbs
|#59-Paulo Melendez, Sr, 6'3 305 lbs
|#76 Christian Harper, So, 6'4 290 lbs
|#70-Jerome Daniels, So. 6'3 300 lbs
|#79-Christopher Misaalefua, Fr, 6'5 360 lbs or #72-Jerrod Brooks, Fr, 6'5 305 lbs or #62 Kyle Brown, Sr, 6'2 290 lbs
|#70-Jerome Daniels, So, 6'3 lbs
|#77-Chris Thomas, 6'4 325 lbs-could also be in mix for LG
|#62 Kyle Brown, Sr, 6'2 290 lbs