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UTEP football: Random thoughts on Sunday’s scrimmage

UTEP took a day off from camp on Monday, and I digested some thoughts from Sunday’s scrimmage.

Warren Redix could add a special dimension to the Wild Miner
Warren Redix could add a special dimension to the Wild Miner
Bradley Metz

The big story lines from Sunday's scrimmage involved dropped passes, and yellow hankies landing all over the beautiful lush grass UTEP has practiced on the past couple of weeks.

But there is no denying the progress, energy, physicality, and emergence of a few things, and players since UTEP started camp on August 6th.

Now with three full weeks of preparation before UTEP invades SEC country, here are some random things that stood out on Sunday.

#AJ29 is something special

Aaron Jones stole the show right on the first play of the scrimmage, giving Ishmael Harrison that signature stiff arm, then BOOM, 75 yards later he hit pay dirt.

UTEP's workhorse looked like he spent his entire off-season in the weight room when I saw him out of pads right before they left for media day, and that hard work will translate into more production on the field from Jones.

He looks bigger and way more muscular defined, he is exploding into his top speed even faster, and is way stronger that I have ever seen him from a high school star to UTEP's go-to-guy.

During a red-zone drill, Jones powered his way into the endzone and took a defender with him.  But what was more impressive was the strength of his final burst as he finished the run.

Being used extensively in the red-zone, you could feel and see an extra sense of urgency to finish drives from AJ in the drill.

I can guarantee AJ will get 300-plus carries this season, but don't worry about mileage with Jones.

He appears to have done the off-season work in preparation for this, also showing off some different cut angles, and moves to break it outside.

So in a short conclusion; watching Aaron Jones run the football this fall could be more fun to watch than what we are already used to.

The Wild Miner could sustain UTEP's red-zone success of 2014

When UTEP went into the red-zone execution segment of the scrimmage, one of the first formations that was shown was the Wild Miner with Aaron Jones taking the snap.

Not only does UTEP have the runners behind it to make this a special package, the blocking schemes, and blocking personnel is top notch on this package.

But its not just AJ running the show behind UTEP's front that makes it so special.

Kavika Johnson took a snap there before he left the scrimmage, and will add the passing dimension for teams that bite on the run.

But there is still more to it.

Autrey Golden, and Warren Redix appear to be jockeying for the motion man in the scheme, and both have the electric gene of breaking a big play, giving UTEP more speed to account for.

Redix hurdled veteran safety Kelvin Fisher Jr. in the pic above, I can see him developing into a Autrey Golden 2.0.

The Miners can add an extra lineman, or like they did a few times on Sunday, go tight end heavy with the unbalanced offensive line to keep the threat of the pass always there.

All of the tight ends were very consistent in the red-zone on Sunday after an overall rough day from pass catchers.

Add Cedrick Lang's frame, Hayden Plinke's hands and speed, and may I also add that both of UTEP's vying freshman Augie Touris, and Cole Ford each had TD catches on Sunday inside the red-zone segment work.

This Wild Miner just isn't about Aaron Jones doing Aaron Jones things folks.

The Miners were an impressive 84.9 percent on red-zone scoring chances a year ago, the Wild Miner should replace a guy like Jameill Showers who was a big red-zone producer last season, of course IMO.

The defense looked way more exotic, and aggressive in play calling

The talk of camp has been the depth in the secondary, and the overall depth UTEP now has from recruiting efforts the past couple of seasons.

Thus, giving Scott Stoker a stockpile of versatile weapons that were flying around all over the field not only once the ball was snapped, but before it too.

UTEP's base is a dime, but I saw a bunch of versatile athletes in the secondary play multiple spots, with the blitz heavy scheme in full force.

On one play Ish Harrison comes on a blitz from the edge out of the corner back spot, then the next play drops into a rare cover three from what looked a safety position that helped him secure an interception.

It also appears UTEP will be even more aggressive with blitz packages from the secondary.

The defense gambled a few times and got burned by the offense on deep balls, but there is plenty of depth to play with in the next couple of weeks to sharpen those exotic blitzes we will see all year.

The offensive line is Kugler approved

Once Kugler was hired we knew the offensive line was going to become a UTEP football strength, but the growth in recruiting and the usual starters and depth over the past two years is quicker than any of us could have dreamed.

With all the wild looks, stunts, and blitzes the defense threw at the offense, the O-line only allowed one sack, and paved the way for more than 150 yards rushing.

Not only was the offensive fundamentally sound with their technique (minus some holding penalties), the depth that has been talked about was on full display.

There were no drop offs or change in protection or push from the first team, to second team, and even the third team.

Now the defensive line did have their plays, but overall the O-line won the war.

Derek Elmendorff as always stood out in his usual out for a pancake like style, and elite pulling abilities, but the communication, and chemistry from all five was almost magical at times.

UTEP's first team starters on the offensive line to open the scrimmage on Sunday from left tackle to right tackle were Jerome Daniels, Will Hernandez, Eric Lee, Derek Elmendorff and John De La Rosa.

The right tackle rotation could be interchanged over the course of the next week of camp and in the season.  UTEP also has very large, and athletic guards behind the starters who would be able to fill in for injury (god please forbid) or jumbo/special package needs.

One of the more underrated position coaches in college football is Spencer Leftwich as he could become more of a known commodity after the offensive line play I witnessed on Sunday.

Cole Freytag was the breakout star of camp

Freytag made a bunch of huge plays throughout Camp Ruidoso, but none was bigger than during a two-minute drill drive on Sunday.

Through a pass interference, Freytag went up in traffic and pulled down a jump ball at around the two-and-a-half yard line to set up a score with time running out on the next play.

Freytag has shown the ability to go up and get the ball, and runs crisp routes with quiet hip movement.

He was also used a bunch as a blocker last year and showed some physicality in his route running on Sunday as well.

"We had some guys go down and we didn't have a lot of depth; I took advantage," said The El Paso native. "The opportunity was in front of me and I had a decent camp."

He certainly did take advantage of his opportunity and looked like a legit go-to target on Sunday.

Leftwich was the main victim of drops, Simpson was sharp for the most part, Metz continues his consistency

There were 11 dropped passes on Sunday, most coming from the arm of Mack Leftwich who was 3-for-16 passing but only made one bad decision the entire scrimmage in my opinion.

Garrett Simpson was pretty sharp, and was a victim of the dropsies too, though did exceptional well moving and standing in the pocket and has improved his patience in the pocket as well.

Both Simpson and Leftwich were really good in selling play action fakes, and making things happen after the play fakes, particularly when the field shortened up in red-zone, short distance, and goal line work.

To me the competition between them is pretty much dead even after Sunday.

I feel as a coach it would be hard to "punish" Leftwich whose decision making was probably the most sharp out of all the quarterbacks on Sunday, but could have used some help from his pass catcher's in giving him a nudge into the starting role.

All Ryan Metz does when he gets a rep: make plays.

Now I would love to see him do that against the 1's, but in all the practices I have seen he picks apart the third team defense with ease most of the time.

Could it be confidence?  Inexperience? Or overall trust the coaches have not found in him that has him on the back end of the depth chart?

No matter what the situation is Metz will definitely see him on the field in some capacity this year, the kid has talent.

The coaches have a tough call on the QB spot in the grand scheme of things because all three have strong cases to lead the offense, but that doesn't mean one QB will play the entire year, stay tuned.