Who is in the mix?
UTEP’s main goal in recruiting this past offseason was to improve, and revamp their front seven on defensive side of the ball.
With an all-conference caliber starter in the middle, UTEP’s linebackers will hope make a drastic improvement like the defensive line did during camp.
It all starts with Alvin Jones in the middle, Jones was the third best inside linebacker in stopping the run according to Pro Football Focus last season.
He accounted for 10.9 percent of UTEP’s total tackles last season, including 6 TFL’s, and 2.5 sacks.
Entering his senior year, the NFL scouts will be watching as the Miners’ defensive leader looks to take his production to another level of consistency.
UTEP also returns Dante Lovilette who was right behind Jones in total tackles last year, giving UTEP a nice MLB tandem in the 3-4 defense.
Don’t sleep on JUCO transfer Jamar Smith who will see plenty of snaps in the middle, and converted Treyvon Hughes will be a reserve in the middle and at outside backer along with senior Johnny Jones.
On the outside, UTEP is looking for pressure on the on quarterback in terms of sacks, and turnovers. Improving their havoc rate should be priority number one once C-USA play starts in Week 2.
UTEP signed Julian Jackson from Wake Forest who will hope to make the biggest impact right away. Jackson comes from a 3-4 background at Wake Forest, and should fit in nicely.
Nick Usher led all UTEP’s outside linebackers with 5.5 sacks last year, but the rest of the depth chart combined for 1.5 sacks.
Returning will be Jayson VanHook and Dylan Parsee, VanHook is nursing a shoulder injury which will keep him out for a couple of weeks.
VanHook saw plenty of action starting with Texas game last season, and will be a big part of the Miners plan at outside linebacker.
With VanHook on the shelf for the first couple of weeks, this gives JUCO transfer Kalaii Griffin a chance to show how much of an immediate impact he can make on the outside.
Lawrence Montegut, Stephen Forester, Chris Barnwell, and Treyvon Hughes could also see some legit playing time at outside linebacker as well, giving UTEP way more options in year two of the 3-4 defense.
From watching camp, there is no doubt UTEP’s JUCO transfers will make the biggest impact in terms of players breaking out.
Starting with Jamar Smith who is a thumper with good run stopping instincts in the second level, and is athletic enough to rush the passer as well.
Kalaii Griffin adds some much needed athleticism UTEP can use in certain packages, giving UTEP plenty of options with his versatility in play calling.
These two picks up were major upgrades in the improving UTEP’s athleticism department which could parlay into some nice production from a unit that was pretty productive a year ago.
One of UTEP’s under the radar roster additions before camp started could end up being the next “Alvin Jones” type player.
Josh Dunn originally signed with USF, and held offers from Wisconsin, Michigan State, Georgia, and Florida. Dunn might not see the field this year, but his future is certainly bright.
UTEP still has Sione Tupou who will reportedly take a medical redshirt year as another guy to keep an eye on in the future.
Barnwell is another name to watch in the future along with Forester, Hughes, VanHook, Parsee, and Griffin who are all sophomores and will be future starters on the UTEP defense.