A big step in further answering the million dollar UTEP football quarterback competition question took place Friday morning in the Sun Bowl.
UTEP conducted its first live scrimmage of the spring, competitively covering situations, and personnel in a very spirited almost two hour work out that pitted the defense versus the offense.
Here are some tidbits from Friday's workout
Fierce quarterback competition
The biggest off-season question is who will man the quarterback position in 2015, and if Friday is any indication, the competition is far from being decided. The day was pretty much even, and very intense when it came to executing reps with plenty of positives sprinkled around.
For what its worth, Mack Leftwich took 34 snaps, Garrett Simpson took 20 snaps, and Ryan Metz took 10.
When Kugler was asked if the rep numbers were anything to read into Kugler said, "No, not at this point".
All three had some very solid moments, and equal mistakes in the workout.
There was only one interception, which came when Trey Brown picked off Simpson on what looked like a botched screen play.
The winner of the day in my opinion was Ryan Metz who led his unit in a two minute drill period on a three play 50-yard scoring drive, highlighted by two beautifully thrown deep balls.
Metz found Cole Freytag for a nice 15-20 yard gain after an in-completion to start the drive, then lobbed an even better deep ball up the left sideline that walk-on wide receiver Daniel Spiller hauled in for a highlight reel score.
While Metz had the best throws of the day, both Leftwich and Simpson showed great decision making within the offense in various situations, as did Metz.
In the first "move the ball portion" where the offense is challenged on driving the field from around the 50, Leftwich drove his unit the farthest, but had his long drive stalled via a botched snap that the defense pounced on.
Simpson was sharp in the red-zone and in goal line situations, tossing a touchdown to Brandon Moss in the video above adding a few others in the period to tight ends.
Kugler said he still has hopes of naming a starter at the end of spring ball.
"I'd love too see someone take that competition and rise to the top." Kugler said of the quarterback battle. "We're not at that point right now, but hopefully by the end of the spring we will be. If its a tight competition it will go into the fall, we don't want to do that, but if it is we will.
Chemistry with receivers is the most important aspect of the quarterback battle according to Ryan Metz.
"Its huge, its a big deal whether your're in high school, college, or NFL." Metz said, "If you don't have chemistry you're sitting here throwing behind or in front, and that is something I have gotten better with."
Pads were popping
As expected under Kugler, the Miners want to be the more physical team, and both sides of the ball echoed that identity in the scrimmage.
There was some great battles in the trenches throughout, and even Garrett Simpson lowered his shoulder for a boom to finish a seven yard gain off a quarterback keeper.
In a very competitive goal line drill series, a scuffle broke out, sparked by the hotly contested and physical scrimmage that featured a number of head turning hits, and solid tackles.
You could sense the competitive, want to win nature of the this team by watching them go at it in a game like setting. There were a few pre-snap penalties, but you could also tell that no rep went wasted.
David Hamm shines
There was one main offensive workhorse of the scrimmage, and it was sophomore running back David Hamm.
Hamm scored three total touchdowns in the various situation drills, including a powerful 20-yard TD run in a red-zone drill that is expected out of the running backs in UTEP's power run scheme behind a well oiled offensive line.
He also showed some elusive speed moves on other carries, but will definitely fill in for Nathan Jeffery as UTEP's downhill running specialist.
With Treyvon Hughes and Aaron Jones being absent in the scrimmage, Hamm saw majority of the reps and showed he will be an impact player in the loaded UTEP backfield.
"It was a good experience, I was already prepared." Hamm said of his increased reps today, "I came ready to ball."
Hamm went on to describe the depth UTEP has at running back.
"I look at it as a three headed monster, speed and power, we all bring a little bit of both."
It appears Jones, Hamm, Hughes, and the Laufasa brothers will be the main horses in the rotation, red-shirt freshman Noah Siegrist also had some solid work today, and fullback Cole Staudt had a nice long run for a first down in the scrimmage.
Plenty of pass catching options
UTEP displayed a wide variety of different pass catchers, all of whom saw plenty of reps, and showed some promise.
Most notably Tyler Batson who made the highlight of the day via a Ryan Metz fade where Batson made a circus catch in the back of the end zone after a few deflections.
Batson is becoming an emerging star for the Miners at wide out in the spring.
"I'll tell you what he made me look good," said Ryan Metz, "This is the second time this week that Tyler has bailed me out, he's going to be a huge play-maker for us, and I'm really excited to where he is headed."
Jaquan White had a few nice catches to move the chains, and tight end Cole Rogers got loose for a few touchdown catches in the red-zone and goal line portions of the scrimmage.
M.J. McFarland was positioned all over the offense, and pulled in a pass from Leftwich on a cleanly ran slant route from the slot where he picked up a first down. He also broke a short pass into a long after the catch gain later in the scrimmage.
His NFL like size when lined up in the slot is going to give teams huge match up problems.
"He did some good things," Kugler said of McFarland's play in the scrimmage."I was glad to see him bounce back, he had that one drop in the zone, then we went right back to him and he made the play and that's what I expect, he had a nice day"
Also in the rotation were JUCO transfers Elliot Oldham, and Terry Juniel. Oldham did not have a catch, Juniel had a catch for a short gain and showed "Wes Welker like" foot work in his route running but is still a work in progress.
The biggest improvement mark for the receivers is separation and route running, which will also help iron out the quarterback competition. To note, UTEP's front line of defensive backs were pretty spotless in coverage for most of he day.
Plenty of options to grow and evolve the offense with at receiver, as its another spot along the depth chart with plenty of competition.
"Right now those are positions that we're trying to fill out,." junior Jaquan White said, "Nobody really has a set job, so we're doing what we can to find those guys, coach wants to find a play maker, so everyone is doing what they have to do to become those guys"
Defense has plenty of speed, length, and depth
UTEP loaded up the depth on the defensive side of the ball the past two seasons via recruiting, and it showed its dividends on Friday.
"Our depth on the both sides of the ball is getting better." Sean Kugler said, "I really feel for the first time we have a two deep defensive line, and secondary depth is also good."
Scott Stoker's defense relies on packages, and personnel, mixed with young guys and veterans the Miners will boast plenty of versatile options in multiple position groups this season.
"We got the different packages, the base and the dime." defensive back Devin Cockrell said, "Finally we got the backups, and we're pretty good depth wise."
The Miners used a number of substitution patterns on the defensive side during the scrimmage, and it appears the depth chart may not be indicative of who starts and plays a lot, a number of defensive players in every position group could be in the mix this coming season.
This and that
***Starting guard Derek Elmendorff saw his reps end early with an ankle tweak, doesn't appear too serious.
***Treyvon Hughes was held out with a hamstring,
***Aaron Jones was held out, but more so on a pitch count than an injury, Jones was fully suited up.
***Both Ishmael Harrison and Autrey Golden were rehabbing injuries. Golden was working a pass catching drill with tennis balls and on a stationary bike during the workout.
***Freshman Augie Touris has been moved over to tight end.
***BYU transfer Trent Trammell saw a lot of time with the first and second team groups at corner.
***Freshman offensive lineman Christopher Missaalefua replaced Elmedorff at guard with the returning offensive line unit, the kid is huge and has a promising future.
***The Miners have tons of depth along the offensive line depth chart, the chemistry and pre-snap line calls from the first team were very fluid. Lots chemistry among the projected starters.
***2015 Signee Kavika Johnson was watching practice, Johnson is not enrolled at UTEP yet.
***Punter Mike Sroka was in as a holder during field goal work to end practice.
***Defensive coordinator Scott Stoker was in mid-season form.
He barked at an official for calling a pass interference in the end zone on Devin Cockrell who was defending M.J. McFarland in a red-zone drill. The call was close, but in the end it should have been a no call, of course IMO.
Devin Cockrell: "I like the competition, usually the defense is whooping the offense, but its good to see us competing going back and forth."
David Hamm: "Our expectations are to be even better than we were last year,"
Ryan Metz: "I just want to get in there and be able to prove what I have, whether its one snap or 15 snaps, I just have to do my best on the amount of reps I'm getting."
Jaquan White: "The offense was great today. we're clicking on all cylinders, everyone was just flying around being great"
Sean Kugler, "Good scrimmage, lot of good hitting, I thought it was give and take on both sides of the ball, defense won the move the ball segment. Good competition."