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Position Group Focus: Defensive Backs

They are mostly young, some are vets, and there are plenty, could the UTEP secondary could be the most improved position group in 2014?


Part of the 4-2-5 scheme obviously relies heavily on an aggressive, ball hawking secondary, something that was absent in 2013.

Though 2014 might see a change in those important aspects of UTEP's scheme.

A deep, athletic, and versatile group makes up UTEP's secondary in 2014.

The Miners return nine players who saw significant playing time a year ago.

Dashone Smith and Devin Cockrell lead UTEP in tackles last year, and just like last year they will rotate at free safety. Both also accounted for Miners three total interceptions, Smith grabbed two, while Cockrell had one.

The thing that stands out the most to me about the 2014 secondary is the versatility these guys show not only on the field, but on the depth chart.

Sean Kugler On Secondary:

"I like our secondary. I think we have a talented secondary. And I like our depth at that position. We could play 10 or 11 defensive backs not only in this first game, but throughout the entire season."

Guys like Traun Roberson, Damian Payne, Kelvin Fisher Jr., and Nick Gathrite could rotate between corner and safety in certain packages, giving UTEP way more depth and also adding to the blitz and coverage options UTEP can throw in what I would expect to be a more aggressive, exotic defensive play calling scenario in 2014.

UTEP also has Leon Hayes, and special teams ace Robert Spencer as viable reserves at safety who have experience, and were seen getting important reps in camp within UTEP's rotation.

While UTEP is young at most spots in the secondary, the veteran leadership is also there.

Adrian James, Wesley Miller, Roberson, and JUCO transfers Gathrite and Jameel Erving bring the senior sense of urgency UTEP needs along its entirely young defense.

Erving is listed as a starter at strong safety, Wesley Miller will start at the hybrid weak side safety, though UTEP will have some interesting rotations and packages throughout the year.

Converted running back LaQuintus Dowell will also see a good amount of playing time within the rotation at safety as well, this season is a starter in training season as I can see him being a starter next year at strong safety.

The Miner defensive backs gave the UTEP receivers great work in camp, particularly in 1 on 1s and 7 on 7s, where the competition, and focus were intense.

Dashone Smith, Ishmael Harrison, and Wesley Miller stood out in coverage, showing cerebral knowledge of their assignments, with technique, and explosion while closing in on a receiver.

Harrison has made the transition of receiver and corner smoother than expected, and from what I saw he is now UTEP's top cover guy at corner.

While this weekend their job will be containing the run, the UTEP secondary will be greatly improved in pass coverage, and they will also help out in pass rush during certain calls.

Miller is the on field defensive coordinator, providing a huge impact with his knowledge of the system, and his top notch leadership.

The Future:

UTEP could possibly debut some talented true freshman in the secondary who had good enough camps to appear on the depth chart for 2014.

Freshman Nik Needham, Adrian Hynson, and Mookie Carlile are listed on the depth chart as possible reserves this season.

Injury, and good play willing, UTEP would probably like to red-shirt this trio of future starters, but the division one ready ready label can be put on all three.

Carlile just looks like a natural defensive back with his foot work, while Hinson made a huge hit in camp that had Bret Bloomquist of the El Paso Times tweeting his approval.

Didn't see much of Needham during my time at camp, but he was highly touted and could see the field as a corner this year.

UTEP will have 10 freshman on their traveling squad, these three could be the first to crack the lineup this weekend at New Mexico.

Cornerback Depth Chart
Ishmael Harrison-2
Traun Roberson-3
Nick Gathrite-7
Nik Needham-20


Conerback  Depth Chart
Adrian James-1
Damian Payne-6
or Kelvin Fisher Jr.-8


Strong Safety Depth Chart
Jameel Erving-22
Laquintus Dowell-32
Nick Gathrite-7


Free Safety Depth Chart
Devin Cockrell-27
Dashone Smith-21
Traun Roberson-3
Adrian Hynson-19


Weak Safety Depth Chart
Wesley Miller-13
Leon Hayes-5
Traun Roberson-3
Mookie Carlile-28