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Five football questions going into August

Head+coach+Sean+Kugler+showed+optimism+at+the+C-USA+media+day+and+talked+about+the+team%E2%80%99s+off-season+improvements.
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Head coach Sean Kugler showed optimism at the C-USA media day and talked about the team’s off-season improvements.

In less than 40 days, the UTEP football team will drive to Norman, Oklahoma, to take on the Sooners, which means that football season is just around the corner. As August creeps in, the Miners will travel to Ruidoso, New Mexico, for their annual camp.

In this time the coaches get to tweak final gears, finalize depth charts and prepare for the regular season, whereas months previous were about strength and conditioning. 

The Miners will head out to Ruidoso on Aug. 7 and start practice on Aug. 8. They will have two scrimmages, Aug. 13 and 20 at 8:45 a.m., and return to El Paso after the last scrimmage.

Below are five questions to consider going into August for the Miners:

1. What strides has quarterback Ryan Metz made during the off-season?

For the first time in his collegiate career, Metz earned the starting job at the top of the season, thus allowing him to fully take the reins on the offense without any position battles.

Going into August last year, it was a three-way starting position battle between him, Kavika Johnson and Zach Greenlee, which ultimately resulted in Greenlee getting the starting gig right before their opening game.

Metz being named a starter not only takes a chip off his shoulder, but also relieves the offense from any confusion about who has control of the core.

The junior hometown quarterback will have some experience within arm’s reach when it comes to the offense as the Miners return some key talent to the mix. Although the Miners will suffer the departure of tight end Hayden Plinke, Metz will have experienced wideouts to throw to. He will have Warren Redix, Eddie Sinegal, Tyler Batson, Kavika Johnson and junior college transfer David Lucero.

Not to mention the fact that they will return four out of five starting offensive lineman, led by All-American Will Hernandez.

Last year the Miners ran a run-first offense, revolving around Aaron Jones and the game on the ground. But under Metz, it will be possible for the offense to lean more toward the balanced attack.

Metz, who threw for 1,375 yards in seven starts last year, is able to make plays through the air and also on the ground.

One thing to key on is how efficient the quarterback has gotten. He was below the national average in passing efficiency, posting a 141.14 rating. He struggled scoring points through the air and making plays last season, partially because Jones frequently made the explosive plays. Nonetheless, it will be important to see how many opportunities Metz can develop in scrimmages and drills during the next month.

“The team rallies around him and he’s got a great demeanor,” said head coach Sean Kugler, who spoke highly of Metz during a C-USA media day. “We’re excited about Ryan Metz and what he can do for the program this season.”

2. How effective will the 3-4 year be in its sophomore season of implementation? 

Last year, newly hired defensive coordinator Tom Mason and Kugler switched the defense from a 4-2-5 to a 3-4. The defense was only able to generate 14 sacks and 11 turnovers last year, among the worst in their conference.

However, Kugler believes this off-season has brought major improvements on the defensive line.

“We’re expecting drastic improvement,” Kugler said. “We saw it in the spring; just from a communication standpoint and guys getting lined up in the right places.”

The odds are in favor for this year’s group, however. They return key starters from last year including preseason All C-USA linebacker Alvin Jones. He led the defense last year with 93 tackles and expects to have a monstrous year this season.

Also returning for the Miners is safety Devin Cockrell, who led the secondary with 58 tackles, Dante Lovilotte, who was second in tackles with 89, as well as other safety Michael Lewis returning to the field after sitting out due to academic reasons.

It will be interesting to see how effectively Kugler and Mason implement the linebacker position to this defense. They currently have 20 linebackers on the roster, according to Kugler, which will also, as he said, help out on special teams. If they truly rectified the defense and can add more pressure to the opposing team’s quarterback, the Miners could indeed have the defense they’ve been hoping for.

3. Who will beef up this running back core?

With projected starter Quadraiz Wadley ruled out for the season due to a shoulder injury, the Miners will have to rely on the other backs on the roster to fulfill the role on the ground for the offense.

Lucky for the Miners, they have a handful of young, on-the-rise backs that could serve as suitable replacements for Aaron Jones.

Projected to emerge in the month of August is true freshman Joshua Fields, the Miners’ top high school prospect of their 2017 recruiting class. When asked about Fields, who is an Americas High School graduate, Aaron claimed to have seen a lot of himself in the hometown running back. Fields brings to the table an impressive 1,000-plus yards of rushing throughout his high school career.

Contesting Fields for the starting spot will be sophomores TK Powell, who took a redshirt last year due to an injury, and Kevin Dove. TK Powell is very elusive, almost resembling the running style of Wadley, but the only problem is that he has not seen much action on the field. He has only played in three contests for the Miners nearly two years ago.

The self-proclaimed tank Kevin Dove, who weighs a hefty 250 pounds, is definitely going to be a factor for the Miners’ offense. Last season he was used as a short-yardage back, trading carries with Wadley as the backup for Jones. On 19 carries he rushed for 101 yards as a freshman. However, in multiple instances last year, Kugler said that Dove will be used more as a short-yardage back, so August will show where the big back stands.

Another component to the rushing core will be Walter Dawn, a 5-foot-6 sophomore quick back. Dawn was utilized effectively on special teams last season and will probably be used on wildcat packages, quick handoffs or in a spread formation when he’s placed on offense.

Kugler, and most likely the rest of the Miners’ offense, will be hoping to see a starter emerge from the pack by the end of the month.

4. What is the answer to the Miners’ special teams situation?

Whenever the Miners set up for a field goal last season, almost everyone watching in favor for the Miners held their breath in anxiety. In fact, there were only two teams in college football who made fewer field goals than UTEP, which barely scraped up five under Jay Mattox.

Now the Miners do not have a kicker who’s played a game on their roster. They will likely have to decide between two hometown boys—junior placekicker Jason Filley or sophomore transfer Andrew Zubia.

Zubia, a graduate of Franklin High School, played for Benedictine College and scored 67 points as the starting kicker during his freshman season. Filley has been with the Miners for two seasons, but has never seen action on the field.

On the punting end, Alan Luna will provide some boost for special teams, and could possibly serve as the kicker for the squad if all else fails.

Returning the kicks for the Miners will be receiver Terry Juniel, who improved throughout the season last year, and Dawn, who emerged as an explosive weapon on special teams. If there’s a kick returned for a touchdown, put your money on Dawn returning one for six.

5. Are the Miners currently fine-tuning or already looking forward to week one in Norman?

It doesn’t take a fast-forward button to assume the answer this question to probably being that the Miners are still making sure they have all their X’s and O’s in check.

But, if Metz has truly exceeded all expectations and full-forced the offense into a complete structure, and the defense looks improved the Miners could very well be counting down until Sept. 2.

Taking a glimpse into the season, however, seems overwhelming for a team that barely scraped a 4-8 record last season. Other than taking on powerhouse Oklahoma, who is projected in the top five this year, the Miners will have to travel to West Point to take on Army early on, host a redefining Rice squad, host Pac-12’s Arizona and travel to an up-and-coming NMSU squad all in one month.

Nonetheless, the month of September will greatly shape how the rest of the season will turn out. A 1-4 record will leave the Miners shaken up going into October, when they will take on returning C-USA champions Western Kentucky and an emerging threat in Southern Mississippi. However, if the Miners manage to scrap a 3-2 record or even a 2-3 record, they may sit in the best situation they’ve been in going into the month of October.

August will show whether or not the Miners still have a lot to fix or if they are ready to take on the season with the exception of minor tweaks.

 

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About the Contributor
Adrian Broaddus, Sports Editor
Adrian Broaddus is the sports editor for The Prospector. He is a junior multimedia journalism major with a minor in political science.   Adrian was born and raised in El Paso, TX, and is a graduate of Franklin high school. He entered college in the fall of 2015 in hopes to better his career in journalism.   Along with sports, Adrian enjoys writing music reviews, perspective columns and news stories on politics.   Although he is pursuing his degree in journalism, Adrian would like to go to law school and be an attorney while doing part-time work in journalism.  
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  • J

    Jay Raymond WjoteAug 6, 2017 at 10:23 PM

    Fire in the Hole!

    Here are my five reasons The Miners will beat Oklahoma this year.

    First, the fifth ranked Sooners will be overconfident in their projected prowess. Over confidence is a giant killer. The Philistine giant Goliath .laughed at little David and got clobbered on the noggin for his arrogance.The Japanese navy was over confident and therefore careless at the battle of midway and their loss there cost them WWII. The Spanish armada was over confident as it sailed off to conquer tiny England , too, and we all know what happened to it.

    Second Sean Kugler knows how to beat Oklahoma. He’s done it. Sean coached the Boise State offensive line when the Broncos slapped the sooneers around in the Fiesta Bowl a few years ago. He ain’t skeered.

    Third overconfidence is the preamble to carelessness. Carelessness causes turnovers, penalties and errors in the kicking game.

    Fourth, Ryan Metz.

    Fifth, Ryan Metz.

    Miners Fight!

    Jay Raymond White

    Reply
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Five football questions going into August