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UTEP football: 2015’s position battles to watch during camp

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UTEP has a number of open spots for either starting jobs or reserve depth; here are the spots up for grabs.

Sean Kugler has a great number of returning Letterman on both sides of the ball, meaning plenty of experience to go around in various spots, but some spots on the depth chart are not set in stone as of yet and will be very youthful.

The most obvious, and attention grabbing position is the quarterback spot, but there are plenty of other depth chart slots to be won starting on Thursday in Ruidoso.

Here are the most heated, and open competitions you should hear about throughout camp.

Quarterback

2014 Starter: Jameill Showers (Graduated)

2015 Candidates: Garrett Simpson-Jr. Mack Leftwich-So., Ryan Metz-RS-Freshman, Kavika Johnson-Fr.

Realistic favorite: Mack Leftwich

Fantasy favorite: Kavika Johnson

Crazy scenario: QB by committee

All four have the same thing in common, they are all inexperienced.  But they all have different skill sets that define them, thus making this a tough call for Kugler and his offensive staff.

Johnson is probably the most explosive runner even though he has never taken a collegiate snap.

Simpson showed the most poise and experience in managing the offense during the spring, while Leftwich executed enough to keep himself towards the top of the race, but did not overly wow.

Ryan Metz was the most consistent in making plays, though respectfully, most of his snaps and reps in the spring were against the 3's.   Metz still was able to make some plays, and earn some leadership respect from his teammates which is huge for a first year QB.

The biggest question heading into the next position group we will look at is can a quarterback find a set of receivers that helps him win the battle, and make UTEP's offense way more diverse?

Although you don't have to throw for over 2,500 yards to be successful in UTEP's offense, whoever manages game situations and takes care of the ball the best during camp should start against Arkansas, and maybe beyond.

X-Receiver/Slot/overall receiver depth

2014 Starters: Ian Hamilton, (Graduated), Jarrad Shaw (Graduated)

2015 Candidates: Elliott Oldham-Jr. Tyler Batson-So. Donovan Walker-So. Brandon Moss-Jr. Jaquan White-Jr. Terry Juniel-So. Cole Freytag-Jr. Warren Redix-Fr.

Realistic Favorites: Elliott Oldham-X, Terry Juniel-Slot

Dark horse(s) to breakout: Tyler Batson, Warren Redix

Don't forget his name: Jaquan White, Donovan Walker

It appears UTEP will do exactly what they did last year at receiver in creating a by-committee, and by-situation approach to determine the number of snaps for the receiving corps.

While there is also inexperience in UTEP's overall passing game, one of these talented receivers should separate themselves in the fall.

Autrey Golden has the Z spot on lock, but after him pick your poison on who sees the field.

JUCO transfers Elliott Oldham, and Terry Juniel appeared to be in learning mode during the spring, while Donovan Walker, and Jaquan White were the most productive play makers.

Tyler Batson could also be another breakout star at receiver.   The 6'0 wide-out from Houston had a strong fall camp last year, and could be UTEP's 2nd target in the passing game with another strong showing.

Then you have the three El Pasoans who will also have a say. Both Freytag and Moss saw a good share of playing time last year, and Warren Redix had a few big plays in the spring game.

There is no short of talent here, like Kugler said someone has to step up and separate themselves.

Tight End

2014 Starters: Eric Tomlinson (Graduated), Katrae Ford (Graduated)

2015 Candidates: Hayden Plinke-Jr. Cedrick Lang-Sr. Cole Rogers-So. Sterling Napier-So. Augie Touris-Fr.. Cole Ford-Fr.

Realistic favorites: Cole Rogers, Hayden Plinke

Fantasy Favorite: Cedrick Lang

Breakout Candidate: Hayden Plinke

We've talked inexperience a lot when talking of UTEP's skills positions not named running back, and the tight end spot has to be most inexperienced group on the offensive side of the ball heading into camp.

Things seemed on the up with the signing of M.J. McFarland, and now with his departure, UTEP will have some young talent filling in.

Former Boise State transfer Hayden Plinke is fully healthy, and will be the favorite to be the main tight end in the offense, but sophomore Cole Rogers is not far behind.

Then enter Cedrick Lang.

The 6'11 Lang put on almost 50 pounds after basketball season according to Coach Kugler, checking in at an athletic 290 pounds.  The biggest question is Lang just going to be an extra blocker, or will the former basketball standout also get involved in the pass game?

Sterling Napier, Augie Touris, and Cole Ford will have to take advantage of their reps in camp to crack the depth chart.  Learning will be their main focus early on as all three are the youngin's of the group, and will be future depth chart residents.

Plenty of size, speed, and run blocking strength to go around with the names mentioned, will pass catching ability separate the main pieces in what could also be a by committee approach?

Backup Running back

2014 Starters: Nathan Jeffery (Graduated), Josh Bell (Graduated)

2015 Candidates: Jeremiah Laufasa-Sr. Treyvon Hughes-Fr. Darrin Laufasa-Jr. Noah Siegrist-Fr. Sloan Spiller-Fr.

Favorite: Jeremiah Laufasa

Breakout candidate: Treyvon Hughes

Guy who could turn heads: Noah Siegrist, Sloan Spiller

The loss of David Hamm hurts UTEP's depth at running back, but I would expect Jeremiah Laufasa, and Treyvon Hughes to have big seasons and big fall camps.

Laufasa could also become a valuable pass catcher out of the backfield, while Hughes is as every bit of dynamic to compliment Aaron Jones in being a legit tandem.

Behind UTEP's projected starting offensive line, anyone of these candidates can have a huge camp, and be able to make plays and move the chains.

Noah Siegrist was a little known walk-on a year ago, but showed he is a tough runner in the spring, and could work his way into the coaches' plans with a good follow up in the fall.

Sloan Spiller is listed as a full back, but really impressed while carrying the rock during the spring and could also factor in if need be.

Expect Aaron Jones to see 25-plus carries a game, but behind him still lies some potential productive depth in UTEP's potent running game.

Backup Fullback

2015 candidates: Sloan Spiller-Fr. Cole Staudt-Fr. Brad Zaffram-Fr.

Favorite: Sloan Spiller.

Breakout candidate: Spiller, Brad Zaffram

The Katy native Sloan Spiller had one the best spring practices of any UTEP player on the roster, and looks to play a big role not only this year, but for sure in the future.

Staudt is another good looking fullback to have in the wings, and Brad Zaffram was a steal in the class of 2015 with his elite physicality and athleticism and ability to also play linebacker at the FBS level.

Another spot where UTEP is deep with talented youth, that will get to develop and learn from an established and all-conference caliber starter in Darrin Laufasa.

Right Tackle

2014 Starter: Jerome Daniels (Graduated)

2015 Candidates: John De La Rosa-Jr.  Chris Thomas-Jr.

Favorite: John De La Rosa

De La Rosa who is an El Paso native, earns the favorite nod from us due to his strong spring, and praise he drew from Kugler from his spring performance. 

Thomas saw a good amount of playing time while filling in for injuries last season, and has the upper hand in that regard.

This is obviously the most physical battle of all the position battles, and could prove to be one of the more important parts to protecting the quarterback, and further solidifying UTEP's stout offensive line play, and running game this coming season.

Defensive line depth

Guys to watch that will be in the mix: Vince Czerniewski-Sr-DT, Luke Elsner-So-DE, Christian Harper-Jr-DT, Sky Logan-So-DT, Mike Sota-Fr-DT, Devante Richardson-Jr-DT, Chris Richardson-Fr-DT.

UTEP has over 10 defensive linemen heading into camp, and while the front line starters are pretty much established, Kugler expressed the want to have a three deep rotation at in the middle at both defensive tackle, and nose guard.

"We are really looking to establish a three deep upfront." Kugler said of the defensive line, "A three man tackle rotation, a three man nose tackle rotation, I feel real good about our ends."

This is great situation for UTEP to have along the defensive line.  A lot of youth could take up reserve spots, meaning they too will receive true development behind established starters that could help bring along the young talent for the future.

Fourth linebacker

2014 starter: Jimmy Musgrave (2015 starter) Alvin Jones (2015 starter)

2015 Candidates: Justen Tatum-Fr. Cooper Foster-Jr. Stephen Forester-Fr. David Jackson-Fr.

Favorites: Cooper Foster, Justen Tatum

Breakout favorites: Tatum, Stephen Forester.

Alvin Jones, Trey Brown, and Jimmy Musgrave will see majority of the snaps at linebacker this season, but last year showed how important a fourth linebacker is to the UTEP defense.

Tatum was a tackle machine coming out of high school, and will become a big boost on special teams for the coverage, and return teams.

Cooper Foster had a nice spring working in with the first and second teams. Talented and well sized freshmen Stephen Forester and David Jackson were both mentioned by Kugler when talking about who's who for the fourth linebacker spot.

Even if any of these guys don't win a depth chart or package job at LB, all will be valuable on special teams this season.  Tatum could really factor in being a future star, along with Forester.

Cornerback

2014 Starters: Damian Payne (Graduated) Adrian James (Graduated)

2015 Candidates: Traun Roberson-Sr. Ishmael Harrison-Sr. Trent Trammell-Sr. Da'Carlos Renfro-Sr. Kalon Beverly-Fr. Nik Needham-Fr. Nathan Stukes-Sr.

Favorites: Traun Roberson, Ishmael Harrison, Trent Trammell

Breakout favorite: Kalon Beverley, Nik Needham

Dark horse to breakout: Da'Carlos Renfro

Looking at who could crack the depth chart here, you get the feeling that almost all mentioned could start, and produce which is something Kugler agrees on.

"I think we got four or five capable starters at corner." Kugler said. "I'm just looking to see who is going step up and be number one or number two."

Harrison had a strong season last year as one of UTEP's top cover corners.   Trammell and Roberson are both going to be factors this season as well.

UTEP appears to have strong depth behind the cavalry of seniors who will be fighting for playing time at corner in the fall.

Renfro makes the dark horse list as a senior who has seen decent playing time throughout his career, but as a senior I feel he has something to prove this year, and should become a productive part of UTEP's secondary.

Needham and Beverly along with another freshman in Adrian Hynson are the future, and should push each other for a down the depth chart spot.  Although Hynson could see more time at safety and be used as a corner out of need.

Special teams coverage

UTEP has plenty of linebacker and fullback bodied type of athletes they want in where special teams all of a sudden is a possible strength compared to last year.

Out of necessity, UTEP used starters who were seeing over 30-snaps on defense or offense to help with coverage or return teams last season.  But now with the depth Kugler has built through recruiting, the Miners will have plenty of depth, and bodies to develop special teams stars.

Kugler runs his program like an NFL team in terms of playing time in that the more versatile and dynamic you are willing to be, the more chances you have of seeing the field.

Special teams coverage was an definite weak spot due to the lack of depth in 2014, now we will get to see if the depth that was recruited the past two classes turns into a strength when it comes to special teams.