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UTEP football: Jimmy Musgrave, Trey Brown anchor a loaded linebacker group

What could have been tabbed in UTEP’s recent history as a weakness is now a strength on the depth chart.

When I was watching a practice in Ruidoso a few weeks ago, I was focused on UTEP's two senior linebackers and thought to myself, I've seen this chemistry and mold before.

Once I thought about it some more, it hit me; Jimmy Musgrave and Trey Brown are UTEP's bash brothers just like the Mighty Ducks movie.

via GIPHY

Now maybe that's reaching, or a wild take, but from watching the aggressive play, leadership roles, and enforcer mentality they play with, it's almost spot on.

"Jimmy and Trey both play with energy, they practice with energy," Head Coach Sean Kugler said, "They've got the demeanor that you're looking for.  I think we have a really good linebacking core."

Musgrave and Brown both emerged on the scene towards the middle of last year as consistent player makers in the middle with each owning a game changing pick six last year.

Brown carries an I'm gonna kick your ass on every play type of swagger.   He's an elite trash talker, but has the skills and experience to back that up.  Last season he developed into a sure tackler, and the main enforcer on UTEP's defense.  He also proved last year he is UTEP's best run stopper in the middle.

Every good defense needs or seems to have a reckless guy that is just going fly around with no regard, knock heads, make plays, has long hair, or has a bunch of tats and just brings havoc to an offense.

Musgrave is that dude.

The outlaw style of UTEP's pair in the middle could become a positive defensive trait that trickles down to UTEP's young and developing group of linebackers.

"Its great, Trey Brown he's full of energy," Musgrave said of the Bash Brothers comparison. "He's out there and that motivates me, and that's kind of gets the defense going.  And I think the defense strives off of energy, so it's good being out there with him, it's fun."

We haven't seen much of Alvin Jones in the spring, but the cover, and blitz specialist in UTEP's defense from last year should be fine, and poised for a solid follow up year to his All-C-USA recognition freshman campaign in 2014.

Jones could be moved around more, and possibly even help out at nickel, or safety if need be, displaying the versatility UTEP has at their disposal on defense.

Now in year two of his career, I expect Jones to be used in a number of capacities other than to rush, and just cover which should increase his already stellar production.

Behind Musgrave, Brown, and Jones, has been a heated battle for an important fourth linebacker spot that could turn into a big depth strength for UTEP.

Junior Cooper Foster has had a strong camp, as has freshmen Justen Tatum, and the highly touted Stephen Forester.

"That's good that there's a competition", Musgrave said about the fight for the fourth linebacker, "If there wasn't I would be kind of concerned, but everyone is out there competing."

All three vying for the spot saw action with the second team in a recent scrimmage, and all three could see plenty of playing time not only on defense, but they can also make their mark on special teams as well.

JUCO transfer Tyler Leasau also saw some significant action in the scrimmage with the second team, and even drew a quote from Kugler after a practice earlier in camp talking about his rise on the depth chart.

You can throw Leasau in the mix for the fourth linebacker spot, giving UTEP an abundance of depth at there for package, or just flat out rotation depth to give guys a breather.

With only two linebackers in the 4-2-5, its almost imperative that UTEP has tackling machines in the middle, and the three returners have proved their mettle in that regard.

"It's a hard defense to learn at first, but I think everyone is kind of picking it up," Musgrave said,  "We have that depth that's coming in. So we're out there for certain reps and then you have threes, and fours coming in so that's a good thing to have."

Tatum is the wildcard in terms of a freshman or unproven player breaking out in this position group.

The 6'1, 250 pound solidly built linebacker boasted nine performances with 17 or more tackles in his senior year of high school.  He has used his red-shirt year in 2014 to build his lower body into an almost tree trunk like frame, and has great explosion in his pursuit along with his strong hands.

Foster has the most experience out of all the reserves,  and could possibly become one of UTEP's special teams ace's with his speed, and athletic ability.

When you look at Forester he doesn't look a typical linebacker, but the kid is physical, and I noticed he always finds himself around the ball.  His role could be a blitz specialist early in his career, as he learns and continues to mold his role.

"Cooper Foster has done an outstanding job, Forester and Tatum they've had outstanding camps," Sean Kugler said, "I feel better about about the depth at linebacker than before I went into camp."

"I find that as like my responsibility to be a leader for this defense," Musgrave added, "I have that chip on my shoulder, I want to help this team get to a conference championship, and a bowl win."

A lot of spots around the depth chart are starting to become set not only for this season, but for years to come.

Count the linebacker spot towards the top that discussion in 2015 and beyond.

MinerRush's 2015 projected linebacker depth chart

Middle linebacker Weak linebacker
Jimmy Musgrave-Senior Trey Brown-Senior
Cooper Foster-Junior Alvin Jones-Sophomore
Justen Tatum-Freshman Stephen Forester-Freshman
Tyler Leasau-Junior