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UTEP Football: What life without Aaron Jones will look like

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At the beginning of the 2016 season, the question was posed.

Will Aaron Jones test the NFL Draft waters after the season?

It was a good topic of conversation, and realization that if Jones had a special season (which happened), would he rightfully bolt?

Now its a reality Sean Kugler, and Brent Pease have to coach around after UTEP’s offense was built around Jones’ superior talent over the past four seasons.

So the question now is what will UTEP’s offensive life look like post-Aaron Jones?

Here’s a look at his possible replacements, and guys fighting for carries in 2017.

The Returners

  • Quadraiz Wadley
  • Kevin Dove
  • Treyvon Hughes
  • TK Powell
  • Walter Dawn?

Wadley had some serious growing pains as a true freshman after a solid fall camp, and appears to be Jones main replacement. His speed is legit, but vision, and ball security were legit questions concerning Wadley’s potential early production.

Fans were amazed with Kevin Dove’s physicality and running style in the latter part of last season, and figures to become UTEP’s main power back. He’s certainly a fan favorite, and load to bring down for defenders.

Powell had to catch up on some school work last season, so he took a redshirt year, but I will never forget the performance he put out against a handful of NFL prospects as a true freshman walk-on when the Miners nearly upset LA Tech in 2014.

Hughes was expected to make a huge production jump behind Jones this past season, but his knee injury derailed those hopes. Hughes will the most experienced returner, but no word on if he will be ready for the spring which will be important for his recovery, and eventual return.

UTEP also needs some wide receiver help, so Walter Dawn will probably not be an every down back candidate, but should have an expanded role as the Miners Swiss-Army knife of offensive production.

Every single back in this ‘returning group’ has had their small moments of shine and flashed glimpses of potential. Now they will be forced to group up quicker than maybe the coaches expected, but the talent is there for viable production to replace a legend.

The New Faces

  • Antonio Dupree
  • Ronald Awatt

Dupree was the highest rated high school offensive recruit Kugler has signed, and spent last semester getting his school work in order.

Dupree is the type of back Kugler has wanted since he took over at UTEP. A big bodied power type back with shifty speed, and above average vision. A former 3-star prospect who had Power 5 offers, Dupree could be a guy who skyrockets up the depth chart with a strong performance in the spring, and in the fall.

A guy not to be slept on is Ronald Awatt who was a grey shirt after a productive prep career at Fresnship High in the Lubbock area.

He has legit explosiveness at 6’0, 200 pounds, and will provide legit depth, but like everyone in this group. Awatt needs a strong spring to grab attention, but the potential is certainly there for the underrated back.

Will the Miners be okay without Jones?

On the surface, looking at what Jones brought, its easy to say no, UTEP is in a tough spot without the school’s best offensive player departing for the NFL.

But, the depth is there, the talent is there, it all comes down coaches earning their checks in developing an offense that not only can run, but can be balanced with a passing game that is a legit threat.

With WIll Hernandez returning and four other starters returning on the offensive line, things appear to be okay, but the running game will be a major question until someone can prove themselves once the lights turn on in September.