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Position Group Focus: Defensive Line

If this Miner team wants to take the next step, it needs to begin in the trenches.

Last season, UTEP was 107th in total defense.

Last season, UTEP was 121st in tackles for loss.

That was 2013. This year, expect a much improved though raw group up front who looks to improve on last seasons woes. If UTEP wants to make the leap in year two under Coach Kugler, the Miners must dominate the trenches. Moving the pocket and creating pressure has to be the top priority for a defense that finished 118th in the NCAA in sacks. Coach Sean Kugler knows it and the players know it.

Luckily, the 4-2-5 scheme with time will provide the Miners with a barrage of options to blitz the quarterback. Up front, Roy Robertson-Harris lead the way for UTEP with 3.5 sacks last season. With his frame, Robertson-Harris needs to utilize his length to bat down passes and get in the throwing lanes if he can't get to opposing QB's. Size is something that you cannot coach. Another upperclassman who will start is senior Maurice Chavis, who started six games last season.

Penciled in the current depth chart are two players that have combined for two starts in their careers but can both make an impact in the trenches. Nick Usher and Gino Breslin will have pressure on them to provide a much needed presence in the opposing backfield. Breslin who had two starts last season will compliment senior Maurice Chavis inside with some added quickness. Usher saw action in 12 games as a freshman in 2013 finishing with 15 tackles.

Depth wise the Miners are lacking in that department. DE Cooper Brock appeared in 9 games in 2012 but last season spent time in special teams. DT Silas Firstley is another young player that will see action along with sophomore Devante Richardson and freshman Luke Elsner. Elsner's high school career shows that he earned a scholarship wreaking havoc in the backfield. Look for Elsner to make a splash this season at DT and possibly pushing for a starting role.

Things could go many ways this season for this unit. Flourish and grow in their new roles as they all gain experience together. The other could have their head spinning trying to adjust to game speed and schemes. The troubling issue for this unit is inexperience. Not much game experience in this group and that will hit the depth.  Either way, this Miner defensive line will be a unit to keep a close eye on. This season the defensive line will be raw, but if this unit stays together and gels then a few seasons down the road they can be a unit to be feared.

Coach Kugler comments on the play of his defensive line (UTEP Football Media Luncheon 8/25)

"The defensive line needs to be gap sound. They need to win their one-on-one battles when they are asked to be blocked one-on-one, and they need to eat up double teams because they do run a lot of inside zone plays off their option package. They're going to have to play physical. Our defensive line on paper is inexperienced, but I like the way that they play with effort and their intensity and we are throwing a more athletic group out there."