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UTEP football: Six things to watch heading into the start of spring ball

With spring ball starting on Monday, we take a look at what to watch for over the next month.

Sean Kugler and his squad will start 2015 spring practice's on Monday March 2nd, UTEP will practice three times a week (Monday's, Wednesday's, Friday's) from the 2nd all the way until the April 10th spring game.

After the first week of drills this coming week, the Miners will take a week off for spring break, and will total 14 workouts over the next six weeks.

Coming off a surprising 7-6 bowl appearance season, UTEP returns seven starters on defense, but will have some new pieces on the offensive side starting with a signal caller competition.

Here are five story lines/things that need to be figured out heading into the summer.

Quarterback competition

Its not about who wins the job in the spring, but who can separate themselves as productive competitors in the spring.

Garrett Simpson, Ryan Metz, and Mack Leftwich will be the "front runners" and more than likely will see the most reps.

Experience wise Simpson would be the favorite, but there has been a lot of talk about what Metz can bring to the table with his nearly polished skill set.

Wowing and making plays is always important, but winning over the huddle, and showing consistency with competing day in-and-out during the spring may separate a starter in the eyes of Sean Kugler.

Not to be forgotten is true freshman Kavika Johnson who figures to also be in the mix come fall camp, but Johnson will be 14 practices behind the candidates who have the chance to make a name for themselves in spring.

Favorite to break out: Garrett Simpson

Guy to watch: Mack Leftwich

Dark horse: Ryan Metz

Wide receiver rotation

There are plenty of them, they all have different skills sets that can help the passing game, but who will emerge is the obvious million dollar question.

UTEP upgraded their immediate need of speed and size with JUCO transfers Elliott Oldham and Terry Juniel, but have a number of sophomores and juniors who will also be in the mix.

Junior Jaquan White had a nice spring in 2014 and in turn had 95 yards receiving and a touchdown catch last year, while sophomores Tyler Batson, Ziere Banner and Donovan Walker saw plenty of action during the latter part of the season.

El Pasoans and juniors Brandon Moss and Cole Freytag will also have increased roles, the receiving core could become a by-committee group much like last year, but guys have to be productive and face the challenge producing while ushering in a new quarterback during the spring.

With M.J. McFarland also in the mix, UTEP will have a hybrid blocking tight end and even possibly another outside receiver to add into the gallery of pass catchers.

Another big question is where does Autrey Golden fit in? Golden became a huge offensive weapon and decoy last season and could evolve into a consistent pass catcher in his senior season.

Majority of the receivers were solid run-blockers last year in UTEP's run heavy scheme, but will now be relied up more in the passing game as they have gotten a year older in the system.

Freshman Warren Reddix will also compete in the spring and is a name to watch, giving UTEP a number of options and plenty of guys to look at here.

UTEP won't sling it around 40 times a game (obviously) but a group of receivers need to emerge in the spring as a consistent targets in continuing to evolve the balance of the offensive scheme.

Favorite to breakout: Tyler Batson

Guy(s) to watch: Terry Juniel and Elliott Oldham

Dark horse surprise: Ziere Banner

Secondary package depth

One the first major tests in Kugler's past two recruiting classes will be the competition in the secondary from the spring until the fall.

UTEP returns those seven defensive starters, but lost five key parts in UTEP's multiple secondary package schemes.

Seven freshman will be dotted around the spring depth chart, fighting for their package niche or situation niche.

One player who will see his role increased in the secondary is LaQuintus Dowell.  A converted running back who has excelled on special teams the past two seasons will now man the safety role in certain packages.

Freshmen Mookie Carlile, Adrian Hynson, Kionce Roberts, and Nik Needham are guys who I feel can fill in those open spots in packages, and all were apart of the class of 2014.

UTEP returns all-conference candidate Devin Cockrell, and one of the best tacklers in the secondary from a year ago in Dashone Smith.  Another returning player who will have to step up and fill a much needed impact role is Leon Hayes.

Hayes could also mix in at corner, but the junior will see more of an opportunity to become a rotation player at both safety and possibly corner as he has been regulated to special teams and a reserve role the past two seasons.

Ishmael Harrison returns at corner, but is the lone player at corner with legit playing experience.

BYU transfer Trent Trammell will help out there at corner, but finding package corner backs is a concern with so many inexperienced candidates.

Breakout favorite: LaQuintus Dowell

Guy to watch: Mookie Carlile

Dark horse surprise: Nik Needham

Pass rush options

UTEP returns NFL prospect Roy Robertson-Harris, and fellow pass rushing ace Nick Usher who both have developed into a legit tandem off the edges.

But UTEP will have some help behind them with a number of capable freshmen and sophomores.

Sophomore Luke Elsner saw meaningful action last year as a special teams player, but could see more time as a rotation defensive end this year, and red-shirt freshmen Joey Kraemer and Augie Touris bring good size and potential to the table as pass rushers off the edge.

Rushing the passer became a huge strength for UTEP last year, and with the added depth off the edges could also help sustain or improve those numbers.

UTEP also beefed up the size in the middle with JUCO transfers Demarcus Womack, and the lighting quick Sky Logan.

For the first time in the Kugler era, I feel the depth along the defensive line is almost where Kugler wants it, guys have to get after it and prove they can be factors in certain packages, and calls.

Breakout favorite: Luke Elsner

Guy to watch: Joey Kraemer

Darkhorse suprise: Augie Touris

Running back rotation behind Aaron Jones

We all know Aaron Jones is that dude, but UTEP again has some running back depth that can help AJ and the offense become pretty efficient and explosive in the running game.

Sophomore David Hamm showed glimpses of the physical, and chain moving abilities he can bring, and freshman Treyvon Hughes is a guy a lot of us have been waiting to see.

UTEP also returns the Laufasa brothers, and it will interesting to see if Autrey Golden also sees some carries out of the backfield.

It was a perfect storm when UTEP signed Hamm, and Hughes to mix in with Aaron Jones, watching a possible three headed monster behind an improving offensive line is a huge plus for UTEP in 2015

Breakout favorite: David Hamm

Guy to Watch: Treyvon Hughes

Linebacker depth

UTEP had a nice advantage of having four starter level options for two linebacker spots last season.

Losing only one of the four, UTEP will have to find a package replacement for Mr. Consistency and graduated senior Anthony Puente.

Senior Trey Brown had a breakout year along with sophomore Alvin Jones and fellow senior Jimmy Musgrave that solidified three spots for 2015.

Jones will see his playing time expand to possibly an every down player, while Musgrave and Brown will also be important parts to have on the field as well.

Out of all of the red-shirt freshman on the roster, seeing Justen Tatum fight for a spot will be the most intriguing part of the line backing group and class of 2014 red-shirts.

A highly productive prep linebacker, Tatum was highly talked about by Kugler when he signed, and could have another Alvin Jones like breakout season.

Senior transfer Nathan Stukes may also emerge from the group behind the big three, and sophomore Lawrence Montegut has the size to also compete for a spot.

Breakout favorite: Justen Tatum

Guy to watch: Nathan Stukes

Darkhorse suprise: Lawrence Montegut

The Miners do have plenty of questions and issues to figure out throughout the spring, but the good thing is there are options, and time to develop guys into roles.

The most intriguing thing about 2015 spring ball is UTEP has numbers (over 90 players) to practice hard and the coaches will get 14 practices to see their first two recruiting classes compete and come together for what could turn out being a productive, depth sharpening spring.