After sitting out last season with injury, junior safety Brendan Royal made a mark on the coaching staff this spring.
"Brendan Royal I thought was the surprise of the spring." Defensive coordinator Tom Mason said. "He really showed up, especially in that last scrimmage, he's a big hitter and showed up well today (Friday)."
Royal set the defensive tone early, blazing off the edge untouched for the sack, and finished with three tackles, and was solid in coverage in Friday's scrimmage.
"I'm really excited to be out there." Royal said after Friday's scrimmage. "I guess I got some rest (from missing last season) so I'm fresh and ready to get out there and do my thing."
"A guy like Royal all spring he's a guy whose kind of established himself as a part time starter." Head Coach Sean Kugler said. "He's going to be an impact player on the defense."
At 6'1, 205, Royal is your prototypical strong safety in terms of size, athletic ability, and that physical edge needed to succeed at that position. He showed is explosion off the edge, and like Kugler said, should become a impact player this season, and has helped build some chemistry marks which seems to make the secondary group stronger.
Right now he's slated to play behind strong safety Devin Cockrell, but the talented junior will definitely find himself on the field in 2016.
"I think our DB's are going to be real good." Royal said. "We're all good friends off the field, we talk a lot on the field so its going to be real good."
Congrats to Royal who earns the prestigious, Miner Rush Player of the Spring Award.
More on the defense
We saw UTEP flash their depth, havoc, and cover ability, but now filling in pieces, and installing more exotic zone blitz looks is the next step for the Miner D.
"Oh yeah, no question." Mason replied about installing more packages and blitzes as the defense's next step. "We just wanted to to get the base stuff installed this spring. Now you're going to see it expand a lot more, but you know you have to be careful you can't get too much into it then the kids don't play fast, we just try to keep it simple and let them play."
You also saw guys like freshman defensive lineman Gene Hopkins make strides, and the Miner front seven really play fast, and physical in Friday's scrimmage, minus a few proven impact starters.
Also sophomore corners Nik Needham, and Kalon Beverly were stout throughout the entire spring.
"We played fast, we played hard, we played physical." defensive end Brian Madunezim said. "We executed on every end, it was a great way to end the spring. I think the biggest improvement is in open field tackles, and putting pressure on the quarterback."
Mason and the staff got a nice look at the possible depth with a handful of projected starters out for the spring, but expect a couple of true freshman to plug in at linebacker.
Incoming Freshman Kolbi McGary, and Sione Tupou were two names Mason said are the freshman who will be needed at linebacker.
"Those kind of kids may have to play early in this system." Mason said of McGary and Tupou. "Overall I think we got good depth at every spot but the linebackers. But when we get Alvin Jones back, and Stephen Forester we're going to be okay there too."
Mason dialed up a number of zone blitzes which forced the quarterback to leave the pocket, but the Miners were also able to create havoc by just rushing three at times.
"Its amazing to have just have a three man rush and still put pressure on the quarterback." Madunzeim said. "That results in picks, and sacks, and its a great feeling to know you can only rush three men and get to the quarterback."
Kavika Johnson bounces back
After a rough start for both quarterbacks, Kavika Johnson was able to settle in and edge past Ryan Metz (if you will) from the eye test standpoint on Friday.
The best stretch for either quarterback was when Johnson completed five in a row, and extended two third down plays with electric scrambles.
"I just use my ability the best that I can." Johnson said. "Coach told me if I see two high safeties I can take off and run, but I definitely have to do a better job of stepping up into the pocket and delivering the ball down field."
Even though you can technically crown Johnson as the more effective quarterback Friday, the competition remains dead even heading into the fall with a team theme more than an individual theme.
"Your spot is never guaranteed." Johnson added. So the pressure is always going to be there, but its fun it makes all of us better, and we're all there for each other."
UTEP hosted a few recruits for a campus visit on Friday, among those in attendance were 2017 El Paso Americas running back Josh Fields and teammate linebacker Kolton Lindeman, both of whom are seniors-to-be could add major offers over the summer and into the fall.
Kugler greeted both Fields, and Lindeman, along with Brent Pease and Tom Mason, it is thought both Fields and Lindeman are two of the highest priority targets for the class of 2017.
6'2, 275 pound 2017 offensive lineman Cutter Leftwich, son of offensive line coach Spencer Leftwich and little brother of Mack Leftwich was also in attendance and was officially offered by UTEP. He attends Franklin High School in El Paso.
2017 defensive back Marquis Brunson from Killeen, Texas was also in attendance, along with Jakobe Davidson a 2018 defensive back from Hutto, Texas.
Davidson displayed some true character with a touching moment Friday night.
An elderly UTEP fan was struggling to walk up the Sun Bowl stairs when Davidson all of sudden jumped up and raced down to help her up into the tunnel. Classy move by the youngster.
For the coaching staff, a longer than usual recruiting evaluation period in terms of the coaching staffs travel will start next week.
This is due to the fact that the NCAA banned satellite camps, something UTEP has steered away from under Kugler, but would piggy back off others who held those camps. Now the staff will have a few extra days on the road to court out of town recruits.
It also means you could hear about more on campus visitors during the season than before.
"That could be the case as you look at it." Kugler said of the increased in season visits. "We started piggy backing other camps, and now we won't have the ability to do that. But our biggest camp is the El Paso camp, and our recruiting starts in El Paso, I don't think it will affect us."
While it won't affect UTEP in a big way, it could possibly help UTEP's recruiting with more on campus visits in where UTEP has not held them that frequently under Kugler during the regular season.
Kugler has already made the necessary tweaks and adjustments to the rule change in UTEP's recruiting efforts outside of El Paso, Although expect UTEP to try to sign between 5-6 El Paso kids for the class of 2017.