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UTEP football: Offensive line has plenty of anchors

Its not just one side, or a single player, the entire two-deep offensive line depth chart is locked and loaded for a productive year.

We all knew it would take a couple of recruiting classes to rebuild the offensive line depth to Sean Kugler's liking.

But the physical renaissance up front is almost, and to most around program, pretty much complete.

In a recent practice, UTEP had 20 offensive lineman suited up, and just seven wide receivers.

Talk about a renaissance and culture change.

As we all know, UTEP returns four starters that helped paved the way for a rushing average of 142.9 yards per game in 2014, and only allowed 13 total sacks which ranked UTEP in the top-20 in the nation in that department.

The chemistry was built with this group after the first half of the season last year, now add an off-season of physical growth, mixed with continuity and you have an even better unit in 2015.

"I think we are a lot better." guard Derek Elmendorff said. "We're used too each other, we only had to fill one position really.  Communication is second to none right now, we know each other, we know what we need to do, and I think we're making big strides, and we're a lot more improved than we were last year."

The main communication factor comes from the man in the middle via NFL prospect, and starting center Eric Lee.

Lee is a physical enforcer, and the main communicator along the offensive line.  His leadership, and athletic ability is one of the many anchors UTEP has along the offensive line.

"I'm like the second quarterback." Lee said,  "I'm making sure my left tackle knows what's going on, and I'm like a second pair of eyes out there.  So what the fans won't see is how much communication we have, it's not just me though.  My whole line we communicate, we talk, talk, talk, up until he says hut, so there's constant communication."

Elemendorff is fully healthy now, and has really come along in being an elite lineman who can execute his pulls at high level, or either pancake you right off the line with his explosion.

His fellow guard Will Hernandez is just as nasty, giving UTEP one of the youngest, but also possibly the strongest guard combo in the conference.

Jerome Daniels moved from right tackle to left tackle this year, and one of the biggest men in El Paso John De La Rosa has seemingly won the position battle for right tackle.

UTEP's starting lineup averages 6'3, 313 pounds across the line.

For the first time in the Sean Kugler era, the Miners have an abundance of depth that will help make the offense more diverse, not only at the skill position, but more importantly in the trenches where they have shown some powerful looks to open holes.

UTEP displayed an unbalanced look with seven offensive lineman lined up out of the Wild Miner, which makes that unit a strong point with speedy play makers, and seven offensive lineman paving the way.

"That's something we have always wanted to do, we finally are getting to where we have the depth and personnel to that." Sean Kugler said of the unbalanced looks.

"A lot of teams do that in the NFL, we've got some bodies there that are capable of doing that.  Guys like Chris Thomas, Derron Gatewood, and big Chris Misaalefua, Josh Silvas, we got some depth. When do we pull those packages out? That could be during any game, but we work it quite frequently."

Obviously UTEP will bring those looks in goal line situations, but imagine if the offense is just efficiently pounding away on one of those long signature drives. then seven offensive lineman break the huddle?

Those looks could come at any moment in any drive and any situation, and that's a good thing for the athletes behind running behind it, adding to the many blocking schemes, including traps, and pulls from a number of positions UTEP showed off last season.

The guys Kugler mentioned will all be second on the depth chart, but not far from the field.

Gatewood plays center. Thomas backs up Daniels at left tackle, Misaaluefua is a guard, Silvas can play tackle or guard, and Anthony Kyles is another reserve tackle who can play both sides.

UTEP could almost have a three deep if you throw guys like tackle Chris Thummel, guard Chris Jones, the ultra athletic tackle Jerrod Brooks and guard Erik Ramirez who have all worked with the second and third teams in camp.

And not mention the future which includes class of 2015 members El Pasoan Markos Lujan, and  6'6, 325 pound Chance Bishop who appear to be taking a red-shirt this season.

UTEP's offensive goal is to win the line of scrimmage and time of possession with a nasty offensive line.  Via recruiting, development under position coach Spencer Leftwich, and elite strength and conditioning, UTEP has made the offensive line it's biggest overall strength.

MinerRush's projected depth chart

Left Tackle Left Guard Center Right Guard Right Tackle
Jerome Daniels-Junior Will Hernadez-Sophomre Eric Lee-Senior Derek Elmendorff-Sophomore John De La Rosa-Junior
Chris Thomas-Junior Chris Jones-Freshman Derron Gatewood-Freshman Chris Misaaluefua-Freshman Anthony Kyles-Junior
Jerrod Brooks-Freshman Erik Ramirez-Sophomore Josh Silvas-Senior Chris Thummel-Sophomore