Adversity in the secondary started before a single whistle was even blown to open the 2015 season.
THE biggest blow of the season was when it was announced that uber talented safety Devin Cockrell would miss the season with a knee injury.
As fans we may have been sweating it, but everyone in that secondary meeting room understood it was next man up, and they vowed to play hard for their teammate.
"We just have to lead the young guys and show them right." Two year starter at safety Dashone Smith said. "How to get to the ball and fly around, and put them under our wings and step up."
Things were going smoothly to open camp even with the loss of DC.
Young depth was developing, the veteran mix was starting to gel and figure out their roles, and Ishmael Harrison was starting to flourish as a legit defensive star.
Then Harrison tore his quad and UTEP took another front-line hit.
One of the main and important traits of the UTEP football program is leadership and of course mental toughness.
And just like Smith said, the older guys took the younger guys under their wing as some key freshman appeared on the depth chart and took their new roles in stride.
Talented freshman, Adrian Hynson, Kalon Beverly, and Michael Lewis all stepped in during their Ruidoso stay, and the secondary really hasn't skipped a beat in practice since.
"Its unfortunate we lost DC, and then the situation with Ish," Senior Kelvin Fisher Jr. said. "I definitely feel like the dudes that stepped, have stepped up. Me as a senior, Dashone, Traun, everybody we all just have to take on that role, and just get the young guys ready to play as best as possible."
Hynson, and Lewis will man down the safety role, while Beverly will play corner. There is another freshman who had a huge spring and who will see time at corner and safety in Nik Needham.
Needham started the season as a corner, but will more than likely start at strong safety, and also be moved around at corner. He and Beverly could become future shutdown corners, but could also display those abilities this year as freshman.
Then you have the veteran mainstays in the secondary who will now be heavily relied upon.
Seniors LaQuintus Dowell, Da'Carlos Renfro, Fisher Jr., Traun Roberson, and transfer Trent Trammell will also have huge roles and be moved around in multiple spots at corner and at safety.
Roberson is currently nursing foot injury but should return next week, and brings the physical element in his cover skills, also improving into a sure tackler last season.
Renfro has been a ball hawk in one-on-one drills this camp, and should have a chip on his shoulder in stepping up while seeing a lot snaps this year as a senior.
Trammell appears to have the mental part of the defense nailed down now, and has seen his play making abilities start to show in practice because of it. At 6'1, 205 pounds with good footwork, a solid season could have NFL scouts scribbling notes about the former BYU transfer.
One big thing about all the defensive backs, is the versatility factor they all bring, which will be a stable in Scott Stoker's defense for years to come.
"Having Trent to able to play strong, and corner, along with Nik Needham." Fisher Jr. said. "Versatility is huge, the more you can do, the more you can play and be on the field. As long as you know the defense, and the concepts of everything you will be alright."
Both Trammell and Needham will be relied up in dime situations, and another freshman Mookie Carlile is working his way back from injury to man a safety spot and could be another impact guy once he gets back up to full speed.
With injuries and movement, UTEP has also developed two safeties who have been reserves the past two years into guys who also be in the heavy rotation this season.
Senior Nathan Stukes, and junior Leon Hayes will also be on the field, both are physical run stoppers who seem to play a lot along the line of scrimmage at nickle in certain packages.
With so much transition, and uncertainty in a period where camp is supposed to answer those questions, there was some early pressure on the main returners to fill in the production gap, but things have seemed to play themselves out with the next man up attitude and overall confidence.
" At first I did," Smith said of feeling pressure with the injuries, "We just need to communicate, and be on the same page."
"I knew being a senior I was going to have to do that anyway", Fisher Jr. said, "When DC went down I had to bring it up to another level. So pressure, no. I just have to keep doing what I gotta do to get the team ready."
More than X's, and O's, or experience the big question would be how would this group build the ever important chemistry, and togetherness with so much change in just a few weeks.
Fisher Jr. assured UTEP fans this group is as closer as ever heading into next Saturday's season opener.
"One of the biggest things I can say about this group compared to the last group is how close we are as a unit. We're constantly together. That's going to definitely have a true effect on the chemistry on the field. For us we just have to be in each others ear, hold each other accountable, and keep pushing each other everyday. And if we do that I feel we will be a great secondary in Conference USA."
MinerRush's projected depth chart
|Corner||Free Safety||Strong Safety||Weak Safety||Corner|
|Traun Roberson-Senior||Dashone Smith-Junior||Adrian Hyson-Freshman||Kelvin Fisher Jr.- Senior||Da'Carlos Renfro-Senior|
|Kalon Beverly-Freshman||Michael Lewis-Freshman||Laquintus Dowell-Senior||Micheal Lewis-Freshman||Trent Trammell-Senior|
|Nik Needham-Freshman||Tren Trammell-Senior||Nathan Stukes-Senior||Mookie Carlile-Freshman||Nik Needham-Freshman|
|Brendan Royal-Junior||Brendan Royal-Junior||Brendan Royal-Junior|