Who is in the mix?
A year after some substantial special teams improvements, UTEP will continue to grow in most areas around special teams, but place kicking might be a huge concern early on.
UTEP will usher in a new kicker, long snapper, and will have some solid coverage teams in 2017, and that’s what we know so far.
Starting with the coverage teams, UTEP’s transition to the 3-4 defense gives the Miners more linebacker and safety types to plug in within their coverage and return units.
UTEP has 21 linebackers on their current roster, and most of those guys will be on a special teams coverage or on a return unit giving UTEP some deep special teams depth in those areas without having to rely on defensive backs and/or running backs.
JUCO transfer Brady Viles will replace the graduated Jay Mattox at kicker who went 39-for-40 on PAT’s and 5-for-7 on field goal tries last season.
As mentioned, the kicking game is a major concern as Viles really struggled early on in camp, although he has reportedly seen some improvement in his place kicking over the past week.
I’d place his high range at 35-yards for now, but Viles will be a nice kick off specialist like he was in JUCO.
Jake Sammut will take over the long snapping duties for UTEP this season. Only 5’8, 170 pounds, Sammut has an above average quick release on his snaps, and will also mix it up in coverage on the punt team.
The Miners had the 10th best kickoff success rate nationally last year, but ranked worse than 100th nationally in punt return and kick return success rate.
Speedy wideout Kenyan Foster and cornerback Nik Needham were the first two returners when UTEP worked on kick returns the other day. Terry Juniel and Eddie Sinegal were the second group of returners.
Juniel should be the Miners main punt returner after he averaged 9.2 yards per return, and fair caught 10 punts last season. Foster, Needham, and Sinegal figure to work in behind there as well.
Alan Luna could be one of C-USA top punters after averaging 41 yards per boot last season. The El Paso native only had a single touchback, and pinned 14 of his 62 total punts inside the 20-yard lines last season.
Overall, UTEP’s S&P+ on special teams ranked 79th nationally, and the Miners clear strength appears to be in the coverage units, and at punt return, while place kicking could be end up being a huge question mark in 2017.