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UTEP football: "Spring Game" preview

One final spring tuneup for Sean Kugler's fighting Miners.

Alex Nicolas (SB Nation)

The reality of Friday's spring game is that it's not really a game with a running game clock and score, but a glorified practice aimed at fans in getting a first look at the 2015 Miners.

None of the less, it's a big time opportunity for one more practice filled with hard work, fine tuning, and progress, and most important: one more day of coaches' evaluation in attempts of setting a layout for the 2015 depth chart heading into the summer.

There will be one-on-one drills with receivers and corners and a live QB, two man pods with the offensive and defensive lineman, and of course a full contact scrimmage featuring situation work, and full field drives with the aforementioned drills mixed in between.

The main position battle that has seen the most pub in the spring is of course the quarterback race, and with a good number of 2014 returnees in various positions, the "spring game" offers a HUGE chance for guys to solidify backup and rotation spots for 2015 at other positions.

Mack Leftwich will more than likely take the first snaps at quarterback when UTEP goes into their move the ball portion where they will start at their own 35, followed by Garrett Simpson, and Ryan Metz will take his snaps with mainly the 3s.

The competition will be between the defense and offense, with no draft or split, its going to be 1s vs 1s, 2s vs 2s, and so on as far as match ups go. 

Running back, offensive line, defensive line, linebackers and safeties all have their starting line pretty much ingrained and will be looking for reserve depth, while receivers, a tackle spot on the offensive line, a fourth linebacker, and corners have open competition for starting and rotation roles.

UTEP Athletics says there will be live-in game player interactions, which figures to be in game interviews posted on the video board one would guess, which is actually pretty damn cool.

Here is a position group break down of spring stars, and players to watch

Quarterbacks

If you had to label certain guys in this quarterback race, Metz would be the most consistent, Simpson would be the most confident and productive, and Leftwich would be the most poised, and comfortable.

All are good traits that each has shown on occasion during spring ball, but production is the final piece of the quarterback puzzle.

A big stat day, with a couple of highlight reel touchdowns could separate a starter, I highly doubt we will see any other quarterbacks past these three.

Guy to watch-Ryan Metz

Spring star-Garrett Simpson

Running backs

I wouldn't get my hopes up in seeing Aaron Jones Friday night.

UTEP's star junior-to-be is not injured, but has been on somewhat of a pitch count this spring for good reason.  Jones figures to carry a huge chunk of the offensive load this fall.

So enter UTEP's stable of young, and very talented running backs.

David Hamm, and Treyvon Hughes will be the main ball carriers in the scrimmage, showing the star potential both have and will bring over the next few years.

Mixing in the carries count will be red-shirt freshman Noah Siegrist, and FB/RBs Cole Staudt and Sloan Spiller.

Darrin Laufasa also might be available, be he too has been on a pitch count this spring.

Hamm and Hughes will surely impress, but Siegrist, Staudt, and Spiller are future rotation players who will see plenty of action on Friday.

Guy to watch-Treyvon Hughes

Spring Star-David Hamm

Receivers/Tight ends

UTEP had to replace tight ends Katrae Ford and NFL bound Eric Tomlinson, but have a guy waiting in the wings who has had a solid spring.

Cole Rogers has been productive this spring, recently breaking a long run and catch in a recent scrimmage, and has the size and skill set to become a reliable blocker. 

Rogers started to become a security blanket for his quarterbacks in the final scrimmage, something that seems to be important in UTEP's passing scheme.

M.J. McFarland has yet to return to practice from a concussion and won't play on Friday.

Hayden Plinke has been sidelined the entire spring, and with McFarland going down with the concussion, the Miners have some developing youth battling for backup spots.

Augie Touris has moved from defensive end to tight end and is still learning and developing but has great size to mold, while Sterling Napier will also see plenty of playing time on Friday and is a little further ahead of Touris.

On the outside, Jaquan White, and Donovan Walker have been the most consistent play makers in scrimmages this spring. 

UTEP is very deep at receiver and the entire group will be used on Friday.

Cole Freytag, Brandon Moss, and Tyler Batson have all been in the rotation with the first and second teams, as well as Elliot Oldham who is still learning his way around the offense.

White and Walker will probably be the "starters" with Leftwich in the move the ball part of the scrimmage with a heavy rotation to follow.

You also can't forget about Terry Juniel and Warren Redix who could become aces on screen plays, but have seen their reps decrease with the first and second teams from my spring ball observations.

It's a wide open competition among the pass catchers that will last into the fall, but someone can solidify their spring, or emerge as a late threat with a solid showing.

TE Guy to watch-Augie Touris

TE Spring Star-Cole Rogers

WR Guy to watch-Elliot Oldham

WR Spring Star-Donovan Walker/Jaquan White

Offensive line

Sean Kugler probably wakes up with a smile everyday knowing his offensive line depth is almost where he wants it to be.

So much size, so much youth, so much talent, but only five spots can be filled, which coming into the spring four of the five were embedded.

Two names have emerged among many who have had solid camps along the offensive line.

El Paso's own John De La Rosa drew praise from Kugler after a recent practice, and Chris Misaalefua has the potential to play at the next level if he continues to emerge, and mind you he's just a freshman who has never played an official down as a Miner.  #BoldStatementAlert

Both have seen reps with the first team, and will see some on Friday as well.

You will see left tackle Jerome Daniels who is a projected starter, and Jerrod Brooks fits the perfect physical mold as a future starting left tackle.

As fun as receivers and running backs are to watch, UTEP's lineman have been equally impressive this spring, and a huge strong point for the 2015 Miners.

Guy to watch-Chris Misaalefua

Spring star-John De La Rosa

Defensive line

Just like the offensive line, UTEP has built depth not only out of the projecting starting group, but to fill the package predicated looks called by Scott Stoker.

UTEP's two returning starters on the edge, Roy Robertson-Harris, and Nick Usher have had productive spring practices, but Usher will be nursing a non-serous hand injury and will not see action on Friday.

That opens up younger players down on the depth chart at a chance to turn heads.

Silas Firstley drew a statement of praise from Kugler after a practice this spring, and Luke Elsner is expected to have an increased role in rushing off the edge.

Joseph Kraemer and Brian Madunezim are also versatile edge rushers along with linebacker hybrid Lawrence Montegut have all caught my eye during spring practices, and will be on display Friday as well.

In the middle, Alex Villarreal, Gino Bresolin, and Vince Czerniewski will all be in the rotation, along with JUCO transfer Sky Logan. 

Plenty of depth to go around here, a solid spring game from any of these could lead to a rotation spot in the fall.

Guy to watch-Alex Villarreal

Spring Star-Silas Firstley

Linebackers

There are a few "set" positions along the depth chart, with linebacker being one of them featuring returning major producers in Alvin Jones, Jimmy Musgrave, and Trey Brown who will make up the 2015 linebacking core.

Jones is continuing to improve into an all-conference level player, and Musgrave and Brown have been consistent as they come since the start of last season.

Cooper Foster has seen ample time in the spring with the first and second teams, battling for the fourth spot at linebacker to replace the graduated Anthony Puente.

Freshmen Stephen Forester, and Justen Tatum will also be in the mix with the second and third teams, while El Pasoans Devin Simmons and Matthew Heard will also see some time in the spring game with those respective units.

I feel we will see plenty of rotation at linebacker in the spring game, with plenty of guys getting a shot to vie for chances at the fourth spot come the fall.

Guy to watch-Justen Tatum

Spring Star-Alvin Jones

Secondary

All C-USA first team candidates and three year starters to be Dashone Smith and Devin Cockrell will anchor a secondary who had some turnover from last year and will usher in some youth mix down the depth chart at safety.

Smith had his season end early last year, and like Cockrell has had a solid spring, but the secondary as a whole still has some questions yet to be answered.

Mookie Carlile, Kelvin Fisher Jr., Leon Hayes, Laquintus Dowell and Adrian Hynson all will see time at safety and are in the mix for package roles at safety and possibly even corner.

But corner is where it gets a little cloudy.

Ishmael Harrison was UTEP's top corner last year, but has missed the spring with an injury, although you can almost pencil him in as a starter.

Traun Roberson was granted an extra year of eligibility, and has been UTEP's best cover corner of the spring.  BYU transfer Trent Trammell has also been a nice addition, while veteran Da'Carlos Renfro has also seen plenty of time with the first team.

Freshmen Nik Needham, and Kionce Roberts are quality reserves as freshman who still have to earn their stripes on the practice field, but will see plenty of action Friday in hopes of continuing the momentum they have built in the spring. 

As the spring comes to a close, the secondary has the most questions, but Scott Stoker has quality quantity to evaluate over the summer.

Guy to watch-Mookie Carlile

Spring star-Devin Cockrell

Game Information
Who? UTEP Spring Game
Date/Time Friday, April 10th, 7:00 p.m. Mountain Time
Location Sun Bowl
TV

No TV