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UTEP Football: Breaking down the Miners most important position battles

With plenty of returners, there aren't many spots up for grabs, but important position battles still remain.


The candidates: Ryan Metz, Kavika Johnson, Zack Greenlee

Favorite: Too Close to Call

Breakdown: The biggest and probably the most important position battle at Camp Ruidoso as everyone knows is under center.

You have three candidates who are all talented, but something says experience will play a factor in the coaches decision.

Consistency is another thing to keep watch when talking about the UTEP quarterbacks.  UTEP practices, and goes over a number of situations and whoever can consistently make plays, and move the chains in second and third-and-manageable situations could be your starter come September 3rd.

Backup Running Back

The candidates: Treyvon Hughes, TK Powell, Quadriz Wadley

Favorite: Treyvon Hughes

Breakdown: The yearly battle of who backs up Aaron Jones continues in 2016.

Hughes had a very strong spring all while seeing majority of the reps while AJ healed up, giving him the leader in the clubhouse label at this point.

Powell is not to be slept on though.  The sophomore busted out against a number of LA Tech's NFL prospects last season, and a year of strength and experience gives UTEP a dark horse production provider inside their running back depth.

Wadley's situation will be interesting to watch play out.  I'm sure the coaching staff would love to redshirt him, but he's got that Aaron Jones presence about him in where if he can help this year, you best-bet he will see the field.

If Hughes stays healthy, UTEP will have a solid thunder compliment to Aaron's lightning, but again, don't sleep on UTEP's younger, and up-and-coming duo of Powell, and Wadley.

Tight End

The candidates: Hayden Plinke, Sterling Napier, Kent Taylor

Favorite: Hayden Plinke

Breakdown: This competition seems more about who can execute in certain packages more than who starts and sees the most snaps.

UTEP greatly improved their tight end depth with the official addition of Taylor this morning.

The Miners tight end corps outside of Plinke and Napier looked very meek heading into the summer, but UTEP now has two versatile pass catching tight ends who are also above average blockers.

Napier is by far UTEP's best blocking tight end and offensive physical enforcer, so expect him to lay his hat on folks in run based packages.

With two big time passing game weapons at tight end, look for Plinke, and Taylor to give teams fits in the redzone, but of course that work, and chemistry needs to be sharpened up to a consistent level during fall camp.

As mentioned, UTEP's tight end depth isn't very deep, and keeping Plinke and Taylor healthy is more important than who starts at this point of camp.

Slot WR

The candidates: Jaquan White, Terry Juniel, Warren Redix?

Favorite: Too Close to Call

Breakdown: Another spot in where it's not about who starts, but who can execute their role, and specialized plays in certain packages.

Juniel showed off his footwork, and chain moving potential in the spring, and could end up being a C-USA breakout player of the year candidate.

White had his drop problems last season, but became the Miners most reliable, and productive target in the passing game down the stretch of the season.

It will be interesting to see if Redix see's time in the slot, or is used more as an Z-receiver in UTEP's offense.  There is no doubt he can he ball from the slot, but the Miners could use his speed on the outside on some routes.

Point is, all three of these guys will need to see the ball in certain parts and situations come game day.

This competition will be fierce, and having three legit weapons out of the slot is a pretty good problem to have.


The candidates: Tanner Stallings, Derron Gatewood

Favorite: Too Close to Call

Breakdown: Are you seeing a recurring theme with these position battles yet?

Two or three talented players all vying for a starting job at a specific position, but in actuality, both could platoon and no drop off would occur.

Gatewood was on his way into making himself one of, or UTEP's top offensive lineman before a foot injury ended his 2015 season.

I get pure joy in watching Stallings' JUCO highlights.  The guy is a skilled offensive lineman, who can get nasty, and who can also play guard.

Either way, both of these guys will see snaps at either center or guard, another great problem to have if you're Sean Kugler.

Right guard

The candidates: Derek Elmendorff, John De La Rosa

Favorites: Derek Elmendorff

Breakdown: They platooned last year at right guard, and again will battle for snaps this fall.

Sean Kugler broke down a few of Elmendorff's struggles last year which led to De La Rosa seeing more playing time in certain games last season.

No denying Elmendorff's talent, and impact on this team.  Coming into his third year as a projected starter he's a guy the Miners will need to have a solid camp.

De La Rosa is a typical Kugler lineman.  Nasty, great footwork, and smart, like his teammate who is fighting for the same spot.

De La Rosa has also played a little tackle in his UTEP career, and could slide over there as well.

This will be another very interesting battle to watch unfold with two starter level talents.

Defensive End

The Candidates: Mike Sota, Christian Harper

Favorite: Too Close to Call

Breakdown: This is where the unknown factor lies in UTEP's projected depth chart.

Both have size, and both have been around the program for a couple of years, the next step is game day production.

Harper moved over from offensive line a year ago, and made some strides in the spring as a nice package option.

Sota is strong as hell, and will become a nice run stopping option at defensive end for the rest of his UTEP career.

Both have clone like features in terms of their physical make up, although production in camp will separate a possible every down starter, from a package based role.

Rush End

The Candidates: Brain Madunezim, Gene Hopkins, Chris Richardson

Favorite: Brian "Mad Dog" Madunezim

Breakdown: One of the unsung heroes in UTEP's transition to a 3-4 in the spring was the play of "Mad Dog".

The Houston native fit right in as UTEP's rush end in the 3-4, and I would project a solid year from a hungry veteran.

Richardson, and Hopkins are the future, but it doesn't mean that these two talented freshman can't help the Miners this year.

For a 300-pounder, Richardson moves very well, and will become a staple along UTEP's defensive line.

Hopkins is versatile like most of UTEP's rush ends, and will certainly help in pass rushing situations as early as this year.  He also might be able to stand up and help Alvin Jones, and Nick Usher at outside linebacker if need be.

Not to be forgotten is Luke Elsner who will reportedly miss some portions of camp, but will be another rush end or defensive end, or outside linebacker option for Tom Mason.

Mad Dog will get majority of the snaps this year, but behind him two freshman get a full year to develop down the depth chart in packages they excel in this fall.

Mike Linebacker

The candidates: Cooper Foster, Stephen Forester

Favorite: Too Close to Call

Breakdown: Cooper Foster has a huge edge, at least early on in camp while Forester works his way back from injury.

Foster has been a special teams stalwart over the past three seasons, and finally gets a legit shot at cracking UTEP's depth chart at linebacker.

Forester is one of UTEP's best athletes on the defensive side, and while it may take him a month or so to get back into full-go football shape, there is no denying he's a guy who can make an impact inside UTEP's front seven.

True freshman Sione Tioupu could also factor in, as Tom Mason has mentioned him as a guy who can help UTEP as they look for linebacker depth in the 3-4. The Miners two new JUCO linebacker in Makana Fraser and Dante Lovilotte could also become factors this season.

Another platoon type situation that could end up helping UTEP depth wise.

Strong safety

The candidates: Devin Cockrell, Adrian Hynson, Brendan Royal

Favorite: Devin Cockrell

Breakdown: Royal impressed in the spring, Cockrell is healthy and as we know is a flat out beast, and Hynson does a number of things in the secondary.

Combined, UTEP's strong safety spot appears absolutely loaded for C-USA play.

Cockrell will have a huge chip on his shoulder in regaining his All C-USA form from 2014.  His length, and sure tackling skills could have him playing this game on Sunday's one day.

Royal was our spring ball MVP, and is a prototypical safety who will be used in a number of different ways outside of pass coverage.

Hynson fits that same mold, and will make UTEP's secondary package scary good, and deep with talent.

Kick Returner/Punt Returner

The candidates: Terry Juniel, Warren Redix, Jaylen Harris

Favorite: Terry Juniel

Breakdown: UTEP has to replace a kick returning legend, with a proven returner, and a former JUCO All-American.  Anyone who doubts Sean Kugler's recruiting ability should look no further than here.

Juniel is obviously the favorite, but Redix proved himself in a number of different ways last year.

Punt returns have been the main dark side of the Sean Kugler rebuild, but the Miners now have two solid options, with a third in Jaylen Harris not far behind.

Who returns in what situation could be dictated by who is tired from playing offense and who needs a breather, but there is no doubt UTEP will get production from both Juniel and Redix either returning kicks, or punts.