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UTEP Football 2016 Position Group Preview: Defensive Backs

Is the true strength of UTEP's defense in the secondary?

Right Corner Back Depth Chart

  • Nik Needham, 5'11, 185 lbs, Sophomore, 2015 stats: 31.5 tackles, 5.7% of team tackles, 6 PBU's, 1 INT
  • Justin Rogers, 5'11, 185 lbs, Freshman
  • Jerrell Brown, 6'1, 175 lbs, Freshman

Left Corner Back Depth Chart

  • Kalon Beverly, 6'1, 180 lbs, Sophomore, 2015 stats: 33.5 tackles, 6.0% of team tackles, 1 INT
  • Brandon Moss, 6'3, 190 lbs, Junior

There will be a big difference in UTEP’s secondary in 2016, and it's not personnel wise.

UTEP returns majority of the main producers from 2015, but technique and scheme wise, the UTEP defense will have a whole different look.

More noticeably, the scheme change will be glaring at corner back as the Miners shy away from man-to-man on an island coverage, to more safety help over the top, and hopefully a better pass rush to help out UTEP’s guys on the outside.

No one will benefit more in UTEP switching defensive schemes than the Miner corners.

They will be play a little more freely, and be able to read the quarterback eyes, and jump routes in zone coverage's, which to me fit their strengths.

One of those examples is how well Nik Needham and Kalon Beverly both played in the spring, and parlayed that into a solid fall camp as the Miners returning starters.

Both Needham and Beverly each recorded an interception in 2015, and turned early struggles in the early going of their rookie seasons into improvement marks each week as the season progressed.

Behind UTEP's two established starters are some young talent who coach Kugler raved about going back to signing day.

True freshman Justin Rogers will be an interesting player to keep an eye. As a high school wide receiver he racked up over 2,000 career receiving yards, 90 receptions, and 25 touchdowns. He also recorded six career interceptions.

What does that have to do with the Miners 2016 season? It adds much needed athleticism to the mix and gives UTEP some unproven but intriguing depth.

Jerrell Brown is a long, wiry athlete who has built on his frame during his redshirt year. Another dynamic athlete in his prep days, Brown will certainly be used this season due to his length and speed.

Brandon Moss took a step back in 2015 and learned the corner spot after converting from wide receiver. Listed as a junior with two years of eligibility left, Moss will see his number called behind Beverly this season, and according to people around the program has really grown into a factor on the outside.

Some of the Miners top overall athletes are here at corner back, but now instead of a complicated 4-2-5 scheme, they will play faster and freely in the 3-4.

Next step is filling up the stat sheet with numbers, and wins.

Strong Safety Depth Chart

  • Devin Cockrell, 6'0, 200 lbs, Junior
  • Kolbi McGary, 6'0, 205 lbs, Freshman

With Devin Cockrell back in the mix, the UTEP defense is just flat out better.

Yes, that’s a steaming hot take, but the truth is in the stats, and film.

Of course his first two years in the Miners lineup Cockrell was a top tackler on the team, but his physicality and presence takes game planning against UTEP to another level of concern when Cockrell is on the field.

All indications from camp is that Cockrell has not missed a beat after a knee injury kept him on the sidelines in 2015.

Quietly, UTEP has put a couple of constant producers of defensive backs in the NFL, and Cockrell could be another one in the coming years.

You know that one player on defense that constantly finds themselves around the ball, and is constantly causing havoc and turnovers?

Well that is exactly how to describe Cockrell's backup and true freshman Kolbi McGary.

Originally slated to play linebacker in the spring, UTEP's coaching staff got (rightfully) greedy due to their superb recruiting of depth, and moved McGary to safety, and the dividends are already paying off before he takes a single official snap as a Miner.

He had a string off three straight days causing a turnover in Ruidoso, and picked off Ryan Metz in a two minute drill with the defense's back to wall inside their own 10-yard line in a recent scrimmage.

He might not be asked to do too much with Cockrell back, but Tom Mason has a toy to throw inside a number of fire blitzes, and zone blitzes.

McGary will learn from one of the top safeties in the conference, and both could end up making the strong safety spot one of the strongest across the league.

Free Safety Depth Chart

  • Dashone Smith, 6'0, 200 lbs, Senior, 30.5 tackles, 5.5% of team tackles, 1.5 TFL's, 1 INT
  • Or
  • Brendan Royal, 6'0, 205 lbs, Junior

This position battle has been really going on since the spring, and UTEP basically has two starters at free safety.

Smith is the Miners most experienced player in the secondary, and had a solid junior year returning a pick six in the season finale against North Texas in 2015, and is a key run stopper at the line of scrimmage.

He's been a consistent starter/producers and should draw more attention from the big media folks who vote on all-conference accolades. I will never forget his break out moment when Smith pick sixed NMSU in his freshman year.

Royal was the star of the spring, and brings the prototypical safety size, and needed ball skills to be effective.

He will see time in the Miners dime packages as a coverage guy, allowing him to roam free in some instances and matchup with either slot guys, or running backs.

Smith and Cockrell could have more over the top priorities in some defensive calls, meaning UTEP's safeties could rack a number of over the top coverage interceptions in 2016.

On paper, this looks like the Miners strongest defensive position group, and the production that should come this season should prove that come December.