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UTEP football: Aaron Jones headlines revamped running back group

Its not just Aaron Jones, UTEP replaces two graduated seniors with two more capable runners that could have huge seasons behind AJ.

Alex Nicolas

Aaron Jones is bigger, faster, stronger, and will do even more exciting Aaron Jones type things in 2015, I promise.

The offensive line proved they are ready for more production with their strong showing in fall camp, and Aaron Jones stole the show during UTEP's last scrimmage in Ruidoso with his signature stiff arm-and-dash combo.

"Anybody who was at camp and saw Aaron Jones, I think he's a step faster." Sean Kugler said.  "He is certainly stronger. He has been in that 15-20 carry range his first couple of years. He was 165 as a freshman and 185 as a sophomore. He's 205 now. He's quicker and more explosive. He has worked his tail off in the weight room."

Jones is expected to carry a bigger carry load this year, and was on a pitch count in camp due to his expected increase in workload in the regular season.

Defense's will be keying in on the talented junior each week, but offensive coordinator Patrick Higgins could make that a challenge as Jones could be moved around all over UTEP's offensive sets.

"He has built himself up to the position where he could carry it 20 to 25 times per game and not feel bad about that workload." Kugler said, "We are going to ride Aaron Jones. He is going to catch the ball out of the backfield. He may line up in the slot. There's no question that he's our top playmaker. He'll be the focus of every defense that we play."

Last season a big part of UTEP's successful run game was the complimentary runner(s) behind Jones, and despite losing both Nathan Jeffery, and Josh Bell, UTEP has revamped themselves with two more capable ball carriers that stood out in camp.

Jeremiah Laufasa was looking like a big time weapon UTEP would have last year before he inured his knee, and missed every game after the Texas Tech loss a year ago.

Laufasa deserves huge credit for his comeback efforts, and has looked even better in his short reps in camp.

The former Washington State transfer has worked hard to get himself back up to playing shape, and looked very sharp during a recent scrimmage period in practice, giving UTEP a bruiser behind Jones that brings speed, and playmaking ability not only in the red zone or around the goal line, but on early downs too.

"It's a big tribute to him. It tells you about his heart. " Kugler said of Laufasa "He tore his ACL early in the season. That's a devastating injury. He worked his tail off and he's back to full strength. He pushed himself early. Sometimes he pushed himself too hard. He has learned to [dial] that down. He will be ready to go. He's such a hard working, physical kid. He brings us a physical presence that will help at the running back spot in some short yardage type things, but also on special teams."

UTEP will have another thunder, to Jones' lighting with good looking freshman Treyvon Hughes who seems to do it all.

His size and running style maybe described as a power runner, but he also has the juice to explode away from the defense, and just like #AJ29 he punishes defenders while finishing off carries.

"I'd say [he and Jeremiah] are 2A and 2B. They are both going to get carries." Kugler said of UTEP's running back rotation. "Jones is going to get his carries.  The remaining carries will be divvied up between Hughes, Laufasa and other guys that we need to get touches to the ball, guys like Autrey Golden, Redix, White, those type guys. We do have a certain number of targets in the passing game and pitch count in the running game that we want guys to touch the ball."

I would expect Hughes to be used slowly early on in the season, but by the time conference play rolls around, the 6'1, 225 pound back should be on every defensive coach's game plan.

On the surface it appears UTEP is thin at running back compared to last year, coupled with the dismissal of David Hamm.

But UTEP's fullbacks can also handle some carries if need be.

Darrin Laufasa is back for his junior year, and just does everything a productive fullback in a run first offense should do.  He is an exceptional blocker, and wild card for further production out of the backfield via the run or pass.

Former Katy standout Sloan Spiller has had a very strong camp, and will see the field this year as well.

He possess some elite explosion with the ball in his hands, and can move a pile with that explosion.  This is a guy who I am excited in seeing. With a strong spring, and even better fall camp, Spiller should become a UTEP household name in the next couple of seasons.

Brad Zaffram was one of the most underrated 2015 signings by Sean Kugler's staff.  He has natural ability at the fullback spot, and even if he does receive a red-shirt this season, his upside and potential fits perfectly in UTEP's offensive system.

UTEP has done well with preferred walk-ons at a lot of different positions so far under Kugler, and running backs Noah Siegrist, and TK Powell are prime examples of that.

Siegrist red-shirted in 2014, but saw plenty of carries with the two's and three's during camp, showing he can compete at this level if need be.  He's a smaller back, but runs very, very hard and is still developing, but could become a depth chart guy in the next couple of seasons if he keeps improving.

Powell was a recent standout in UTEP's final scrimmage of camp.  Label Powell as another name to remember for the future, he will more than likely take a red shirt this year.

UTEP is going to run, run, and run some more, we all know that.

Keeping Jones healthy and upright is more important this year than any other, although UTEP hopes to create a three-headed monster with Laufasa, and Hughes pounding away right behind him.