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UTEP Football: Spring Football Position Battles, Four Major Questions

Lots of questions could be shored up, but injuries remain the theme.

The main spring football story line is recovering from up to nine currently lingering, or rehabbing season ending injuries from the 2015 season.

Thus those backups at certain spots will see plenty of first team reps in what looks to be an important few weeks of spring practice in terms of building depth.

Here are the main position battles to watch in spring practice.


Names you need to know: Kavika Johnson, Ryan Metz, Mack Leftwich

Projecting a breakout player: Both Metz, and Johnson

We've seen all three handle a huddle, pre-snap calls, and the little things about the position, now its about making plays from the pocket.

Johnson had a strong finish in the season finale against North Texas, Metz can make magic if allowed, and how will Leftwich respond after two serious concussions?

Brent Pease will be ushering in a new offensive scheme, all while trying to develop, and mold a starter.

Easy to see why this will be the most important battle until the fall, UTEP needs a quarterback to take the reigns, or look like they could take the reigns over the next month.

Linebackers (Outside)

Names you need to know:

Jayson VanHook (OLB/ILB?), Justen Tatum (ILB), Cooper Foster (OLB?), Johnny Jones (OLB), Lawrence Montegut (OLB), Nick Usher (OLB/DE) Silas Firstley (OLB/LB)

Projecting a breakout player: Jayson VanHook, Justen Tatum

With Stephen Forester, and Alvin Jones out for the spring, someone needs to have a big spring to show UTEP will have some promise at linebacker behind those two projected starters.

Right now, the linebacker well appears dry, but those names listed could become important factors as UTEP lost two veteran linebackers to graduation, and will need to develop outside linebackers with the new defensive scheme.

Sean Kugler has talked highly of VanHook, and Tatum will be a third year sophomore as the projected leaders for spring production possibly on the inside.

It will also be interesting to see how Nick Usher, Silas Firstley and Lawrence Montegut adjust to standing up in certain packages, or if outside linebacker will be their every down position going forward.

Another important area, but unlike the QB's, there are plenty of unknowns at linebacker, particularly in a new 3-4 look.

Wide receiver rotation

Names you need to know:

Cole Freytag, Elliott Oldham, Eddie Sinegal

Projecting a breakout player: Freytag, Sinegal

Tyler Batson, Jaquan White, and Warren Redix are your front line guys, but depth behind them is a battle that will take place in the spring.

Freytag should be included in that group of returners, but for some reason he was not used as much as he should last year.

Based off film, Brent Pease will easily change that, because Freytag proved he is a reliable receiver who needs targets.

Elliott Oldham went through the rare feat of red shirting as a JUCO transfer, but could greatly benefit from it with a strong spring.

Sinegal is a guy who will see plenty of first or second team reps, what he does with them will dictate his depth chart standing heading into the fall.

Kugler has done a good job of building this current receiving corps, setting them all up to control their own depth chart destiny.

Rush End

Names you need to know:

Foster Dixson, Gene Hopkins, Sky Logan, Mike Sota, Chris Richardson

Projecting a breakout player: Dixson, Richardson

The strength of UTEP's class of 2015 was on the defensive line, and those prospects will finally get to show their mettle.

Foster Dixson is a physical specimen at 6'5, 235 and growing, Gene Hopkins is a versatile athlete adding more size, and Sky Logan proved last season he could be an all-conference candidate.

UTEP also has Chris Richardson who could slide over to end in certain packages along with Sota, and Hopkins, as Gino Bresolin figures to see majority of the snaps at nose tackle.

Tom Mason has plenty of pieces to plug in at end, and linebacker to watch, and evaluate how they react during the spring.

Backup Running Back

Names you need to know:

TK Powell, Treyvon Hughes, Orion Prescott

Projecting a breakout player: TK Powell

Powell burst onto the scene last season against LA Tech, and like last spring/fall, back up running back spots are wide open.

The big question will be if Powell will be redshirting again this year after having his pulled last season, plus you have some freshman reinforcements coming in the fall.

Solidifying a spot won't be easy in the spring, but guys like Hughes, and Powell have a shot to turn some heads in the spring.

Four Questions That Should Be Answered After Spring Ball

Will a quarterback separate themselves?

It didn't happen last spring, and it really didn't happen in the fall, but can a quarterback play well in where Sean Kugler makes a decision at the end of the spring?

Its probably not fair to officially name a starter after spring ball, but a runaway candidate would be a positive growth mark in the spring.

The quarterbacks have a lot on their plate in the spring, learning a new offense, fighting for a job.

But this is what football is all about, who will rise to the occasion and lead this offense?

How will the defense look?

UTEP will be looking for a few pieces to replace graduated starters in certain areas, but with plenty of returners in the secondary, the question will how quick can this defense gel all while learning a new scheme.

Names to watch in the secondary will be Brendan Royal, Omar Lloyd, and Jerrell Brown as new places looking to crack the secondary rotation at corner and/or safety.

Sharpening up cornerback technique will be a big and important job said cornerbacks coach Derrius Bell who inherits a talented young group with a year under their belts.

The pieces, and depth are there, time for someone to assert themselves on the defensive side.

How deep will the offensive line be?

UTEP could have up to 10 or 11 lineman who all have the talent to be used in Pease's versatile run schemes.

All eyes in the spring will be on JUCO transfer Tanner Stallings as he has a legit chance at earning a starting spot at center with Derron Gatewood recovering from his foot injury.

The first two years of Sean Kugler's recruiting plan included offensive lineman who will now figure in for jobs, and spots.

With a solid core returning with two seasons of experience, the offensive line is in good hands depth wise, now guys will have to earn their keep.

How different will the passing game look?

The ball control principles will be the same, but how much different will UTEP's passing game look under Brent Pease is a big unknown.

Pease told me after he was introduced that the key will be not overloading too much info early on during the learning process of the instillation of his offense.

Usually the defense is ahead of the offense early on in spring or fall camps, but how much of the offense will be unleashed or learned in the spring could show how effective it could be come the fall.

UTEP desperately needs a suitable passing game to live up to the winning potential this group has in 2016.