What was a weakness at the beginning of 2014, became an improved mark as the season went on, but with a few new faces, and some returning faces including a possible NCAA legend, there is hope that the special teams units will take a giant leap forward in 2015.
The parts missing from specials teams production so far under Sean Kugler have been punt returning, blocking kicks, and a true special teams depth chart with capable parts on coverage and blocking teams.
"We do have more tight end, linebacker, fullback types." Kugler said. "Which allows you to have a little bit more size on your special teams. I feel better about our special teams depth than I did last year."
UTEP signed JUCO all-american Terry Juniel to help make punt returning a thing again at UTEP, and with so many linebackers, defensive backs, tight ends, and fullbacks on the sidelines now, UTEP's coverage and return teams are improved based off personnel.
Juniel who is a sophomore, is currently nursing a foot injury and will be out in week one, but two freshman could fill in and be productive.
Defensive back Nik Needham, and slot receiver Warren Redix have worked there in camp and seem to be the most explosive replacements.
Trent Trammell, Brandon Moss, and Jaquan White have also seen some work back there, giving UTEP some nice sure handed options at punt returner.
On the official depth chart released Monday, Needham and White will be handling punts against Arkansas.
Autrey Golden just needs one more kickoff return house call to tie the NCAA record for career touchdown returns. Golden should be helped out greatly by UTEP's front-line kickoff coverage team that features a number of offensive and defensive starters.
Once Juniel gets healthy, it will be him and Golden returning kickoffs, making that a dynamic tandem to prepare against.
"Just like offense and defense, injuries can hurt your depth on special teams." Kugler added. "But I feel good about the overall depth of that."
UTEP's kicker Jay Mattox looks to be as strong as ever.
The Groza Award Watch list member was easily booting kickoffs through the end-zone in a recent special teams practice, and has improved by leaps and bounds each year he has been here.
Alan Luna will punt for UTEP this season, as the Miners will continue to use the roll out punt style.
Luna seems to have nailed down the part of pinning, and forming a crazy bounce off the roll out kick, and could become a special weapon as Mattox was last year.
Nick Dooley has been a consistent and ultra reliable long snapper in his UTEP tenure. At 6'8 310 pounds, does a guy like him get a legit look at an NFL training camp in 2016?
Cooper Foster backs Dooley up at long snapper, and coach Kugler indicated that Garrett Simpson will hold place kicks, and Ryan Metz will be the back up there if Simpson is not ready to go for week one.
Brian Natkin has improved this unit in small increments the past couple of seasons, will recruiting help shore up what could be a solid special teams unit in 2015?
|Long Snapper||Kick Returner||Punt Returner||Holder||Punter||Kicker|
|Nick Dooley-Senior||Autrey Golden-Senior||Nik Needham-Freshman||Garrett Simpson-Junior||Alan Luna-Freshman||Jay Mattox-Junior|
|Cooper Foster-Junior||Nik Needham-Freshman||Jaquan White-Junior||Ryan Metz-Freshman||Jay Mattox-Junior||Alan Luna-Freshman|