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UTEP Football: What's Next?

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With the season over, and the coaches on the road hitting the recruiting trail, what's next for UTEP football?

Sean Kugler will be back

There were outsiders questioning Sean Kugler's job status, but no matter what is said on social media, it's safe to assume Sean Kugler was never on the hot seat from the UTEP administration.

This coming season might be slightly different, but Kugler is back, and after Saturday's game he showed the passion he has to continue this rebuild project into year five.

Whether you agree or not, Kugs is back for year five.

Aaron Jones' big decision

One of the biggest questions heading into the offseason is Aaron Jones' decision on whether to enter the NFL Draft, or return to seal that his UTEP rushing records will never be touched.

Right now, outside of El Paso, Jones might not be an early round lock which makes his decision pretty easy if he is actually projected to go in the early rounds. But you never know what grade Jones will actually receive as Sean Kugler said Wednesday that the information gathering process has already begun.

Jones respectfully did not give a timetable on making the call, and is truly waiting for info on his draft stock, and conversations with Sean Kugler and his family will untimely influence his decision once he gathers the proper info.

Recruiting

Sean Kugler and staff have filled 20-plus scholarships in each of the past three years, and expects to hit the full 85 count with only 12 scholarships available for the 2017 cycle.

UTEP's first priority is the early JUCO signing period with an emphasis on finding linebackers, pass rushers, safeties, and any available offensive playmaker marking their JUCO strategy.

Former BYU tight end Josh Weeks is taking classes at UTEP and appears to be the answer to replace Hayden Plinke at tight end.

With so many young players returning across the depth chart, Kugler has the luxury option of being selective with his 12 scholarships as depth is already in place at a few positions.

The most immediate need is at linebacker, and UTEP could use an impact safety for depth purposes, but the return of Michael Lewis who missed the 2016 season due to academic issues will be welcoming to that need.

One of the first JUCO linebackers UTEP has targeted is Tomarcio Reese from Northwest Mississippi Community College.

UTEP is returns Sky Logan, and Mike Sota at defensive end, with the highest rated 2016 signee Keith Sullivan expected to also officially join the team in January. Tom Mason could use major depth at defensive end as the nose tackle spot is stocked for next season with Chris Richardson, Denzel Chukwukelu, and Tiano Tialavea who battled injury this season as a true freshman.

UTEP could also use a wide receiver or another pass catching tight end to help out Ryan Metz and the offense as the Miners will also have to replace graduating offensive lineman with youngsters who have been in the waiting and developing over the past few seasons.

Kugler has done a good job of stocking up depth, now the question is how strong UTEP's player development is, and can Kugler reel in immediate impact recruits with a limited amount of schollys for 2017.

Player transfers, coaching changes

The roster turnover has been minimal under Sean Kugler, and the high expectation of that continuing this offseason should remain the same.

UTEP guard Will Hernandez could be another UTEP underclassman to have a legit shot at the NFL Draft, and is certainly regarded as one of the best offensive lineman in college football.

Another thing to keep an eye out for is position coaching changes as new opportunities come available over the next month during the coaching carousel which is already underway.

That is another thing Kugler has not allowed to hamper the program before he made necessary coaching changes last offseason.

Overall offseason outlook

After Aaron Jones, securing some impact linebackers, a pass rusher (hopefully two of them), and even a kicker from the JUCO ranks appears to be a main priority.

Improving the passing game, and installing some more wrinkles for Ryan Metz to work on should be done on the X's and O's part.

The offseason will also be important for young offensive lineman like Greg Long, Jerrod Brooks, Chance Bishop, and Chris Misaalefua to take the next step in their development as they could see chances to crack the depth chart in the spring and make impacts next fall.

UTEP isn't in dire of need of bodies outside of the aforementioned areas of immediate needs, but they are in dire need of rapid development of the returning scholarship players that will have a chance to see the field for the first time in their UTEP careers.