The Miner offensive line appears to be stacked for the 2017 season. So much so in fact, that Phil Steele has them ranked as the best line in the conference heading into the season. Small wonder that Coach Kugler has built a powerhouse line, since he himself was of course a star lineman at UTEP.
In 2016, the Miner line helped produce 185.5 rushing yards per game ranking sixth in the conference. This line contributed mightily to Aaron Jones’ single-season school rushing record of 1,773 yards. With Jones now gone, it will be interesting to see what the rushing yards per game will look like in 2017 with a stable of young runners running behind a stout and experienced line.
The Miners passed for 183.7 yards per outing last season. That mark was good for dead last in the conference, which was not good. Hopefully with another offseason under Ryan Metz’s belt, these numbers will dramatically improve and lead to points.
UTEP also scored 26.3 points per game, with 4,430 yards of total offense last season (11th in the conference). Additionally, the line held opponents to 22 sacks last season, tied for 3rd best in the conference.
So, with that, let’s take a look at theprobable starting line, all of whom made great contributions to these 2016 offensive numbers:
At center will probably be senior Tanner Stallings, who started the final seven games of last season at this position. Mix in Derron Gatewood here as well, and UTEP virtually has two interchangeable starters with experience at center.
Left guard doesn’t require much thinking, it’s senior and all-world lineman Will Hernandez. Every Miner fan knows who he is, and he has too many accolades and achievements to list. He’s played 37 games for UTEP. He’s pretty good.
At right guard will probably be junior Derron Gatewood, who started all 12 games last season (first 5 games at C, last 7 at RG). Derek Elemndorrf is another interchangeable player who will more than likely start more games than he comes in relief for as Gatewood slides over to center in most packages.
Left tackle will be sophomore Greg Long, who was selected along with Hernandez to Phil Steele’s preseason C-USA first team. He played in nine games last season, and switched from the guard to tackle position.
Right tackle looks to be junior Jerrod Brooks, who played in all 12 games last season (the 1st 5 at RT). Brooks is your prototypical right tackle in a pro-style offense, and could develop into an NFL prospect.
Another valuable contributor will be senior Derek Elmendorff, who, after Hernandez, is the most experienced player at UTEP (33 games). He has extensive experience at right guard, and looked sharp in camp.
Wild Card: Bijan Hosseini, a 6’3” 300-pound junior transfer who played his first two seasons at two different California community colleges. He has played at the C and G positions, and started 17 games for his previous two schools. I located some impressive highlight footage of him:
What is he made of? Is he ready for the level of competition at Division 1 football? I think he is.
Breakout Player: Senior Logan Tuley-Tillman. This talented tackle first played at Michigan, before transferring to Akron, where he started every game for the Zips. He was a highly recruited prospect, and held offers from numerous Power 5 schools, including Alabama (which knows a thing or two about talented offensive linemen). He has now landed in El Paso, and I anticipate great things from him this season.
Expect him and Greg Long to platoon that left tackle spot until someone cements their spot.
The Future: Ruben Guerra, Rey Mendez, Josiah Gray, Stephen Rodriguez, Markos Lujan, Jaime Perales, and Bobby Deharo comprise the future of UTEP’s offensive line play. All have played in one or fewer games as Miners. With the talented upperclassmen ahead of them to learn from, and faith in Sean Kugler’s apparent ability to recruit above-average linemen, the future looks bright for UTEP along the offensive line.