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UTEP football: Defensive line has productive pieces now and in the future

UTEP’s defensive line will be relied up for increased production, where will it come from?

Alex Nicolas

For senior defensive end Roy Robertson-Harris, this is a contract season.

The 6'7 athletic freak has the attention of NFL scouts, and every week offensive coordinators will have a specific game plan for him.

The leader of the defensive line spearheads a group that has steadily improved into a possible strength the past couple of seasons, and has enough front line talent to make it a stout spot on the defense in 2015.

"It all starts up front," said Roy Robertson-Harris "The good thing is with our experience, me being a senior and Ush and Gino being juniors, we get it done.   With a good defense, it starts up front."

The most veteran position group along the depth chart, two three year starters will rush off the edge, and the experienced guys in the middle will see an expanded role and look to build off a successful 2014 campaign.

"I feel real good about our line and our depth there at that position, particularly at the end position," Kugler said. "I think we're bigger than we've been inside; we're in the 280-290 (pound) range."

Nick Usher will rush opposite of Robertson-Harris, and the junior now in his third year as a starter could have a bigger breakout season following a productive 2014 season.

The pair combined for 15 TFL's last year along with a combined six sacks.

Those numbers should have Miner fans expecting the same, or a bigger production boost for both entering their third year as starters.

In the middle, senior defensive tackle Alex Villarreal told us back in the spring that he poised for a big year now fully healthy after dealing with shoulder issues last season.

"I have to fill some big shoes from old roommate Maurice Chavis, but I'm working my butt off and hopefully I can do a good job." Villarreal said.  "Last year I wasn't able to practice in the spring because I just had surgery.  And it helps a lot to get more practice, more reps, and it's a big help."

One of the biggest breakout stars during camp out of this group is defensive tackle Brian Madunezim.

The athletic defensive tackle is really explosive off the ball, and is long and rangy making him difficult to block when he fires off the line with that full explosion. He appears to be the speed or passing down defensive tackle behind Villarreal, but also excelled in short yardage situations in UTEP's last scrimmage in Ruidoso.

Gino Bresolin was a consistent cog in the middle last year, and will see his snaps increase at nose tackle this season.

Behind Bresolin at nose are two capable backups in Vince Czerniweski, and Christian Harper.

Czernisweski and Bresolin are almost identical as far as physical mold, and Harper gives UTEP some length inside with his 6'4 height.

6'2, 290 pound Devante Richardson could also see himself in the defensive tackle, or nose tackle rotation as well.

A lot is expected this season out of sophomore hybrid defensive lineman Luke Elsner.

Elsner got his feet wet on special teams last year, but the 6'3, 260 pound versatile end will see tons of snaps on the defensive side this year.

Scott Stoker even hinted at Elsner being possibly moved inside later in his career once he bulks up some more.  The Wisconsin native is my pick for a breakout year candidate out of the unproved and young defensive lineman.

There are two other defensive ends that will be interesting to watch as they bring a solid athletic angle to the defensive end position for UTEP.

Silas Firstley has seen plenty of snaps in his first two years as a Miner after red shirting in 2012.  He is up to 265 pounds, and will back up either right or left end depending on the package. Firstley has played in 23 games in his first two years as a Miner, tallying 43 total tackles, and three tackles for loss in that span.

The most intriguing guy out of all the rush ends is La Marque native Lawrence Montegut.  At 6'1, 230, most would consider him another speed rusher, but the guy is super physical and moves very well laterally like a linebacker.

Montegut is another guy who I can see breakout statistically in certain packages this season with his athletic ability, and sure tackling skills.

JUCO transfer Sky Logan, and 6'4 285 pound red shirt freshman Mike Sota have also been working with the threes in camp, and are available options for reserve depth this season.

While UTEP has a nice rotation of experienced and proven players already on the depth chart, the future is even brighter.

There are a handful of 2015 freshman that will be red shirted this year and should have Miner fans excited on the direction this position group is headed.

Freshman Foster Dixson, Gene Hopkins, Christian Richardson, Denzel Chukwukelu, and newly committed 2016 prospect Christian Johnson all have huge upsides, along with their elite size that fits what UTEP is trying to do there, and will be nice mix for the 2016 season.

Dixson, Hopkins, Richardson, and Chukwukelu are all on campus and presumed to be red, or gray shirting this season.

The present appears locked and loaded, the future is bright, but the bigger question is will the defensive line become consistently productive as they did from the mid-point of last season that helped push UTEP to a bowl game.

"I really felt from the quarter point of last year, particularly after the La. Tech game, our defense flew around," Kugler said. "They were disruptive, they made plays behind the line of scrimmage, they forced turnovers and the offense fed off of it. That's really when our team started becoming a team."

Roy Robertson-Harris-Senior Alex Villarreal-Senior Gino Bresolin-Junior Nick Usher-Junior
Luke Elsner-Sophomore Brian Madunezim-Junior Vince Czerniweski-Senior Lawrence Montegut.-Junior