For three weeks, the new football coaches and players will finally be able to put on pads, run plays and schemes, and get a feel for the fall as spring ball commences.
It will be the first chance for the players to get a true feel for each other and it will also be the first chance to see how much will be changed come the fall under the new coaching staff.
Below are five of the players to watch out for this spring ball season, which begins March 5-April 11:
The 6-foot-4 dual-threat quarterback out of Iowa Western has carried a lot of hype around his play, so spring ball will be the first time Kai Locksley steps on the field in UTEP colors.
First, Locksley will have to secure the starting job, competing with the likes of Ryan Metz, Alex Fernandez and Mark Torrez. UTEP hasn’t had a true starting quarterback in three years, so having a true quarterback as early as spring ball would be to their advantage.
Head coach Dana Dimel said in his introductory press conference that they would morph the offense around the quarterback. So with that being said, it will probably be a run-first offense, with Locksley not being afraid to run the ball when given the chance.
Expect Locksley to take a majority of snaps during spring ball and show off some big-time plays.
Quardraiz Wadley —Running back
After missing the majority of the 2017 season due to an injury, running back Quadraiz Wadley will be back on the gridiron to have his first truly healthy spring season since his freshman year.
During the rough points of last season, Wadley was really all the Miners had as an answer for offense. As he will probably trade off reps with running backs such as Ronald Awatt and Joshua Fields–Wadley, if healthy, can show some glimpses of greatness this spring.
As the college football trend for running backs is shifting to more of a bipartisan running back duo, look to Wadley and Fields to both do damage on the field.
Nik Needum—Defensive Back
One of the best things this defense will bring next season is a sharp secondary. Led by 2017 C-USA Honorable Mention defensive back Nik Needham, the Miners secondary core has the potential to be the best in the conference.
Needham, a senior in the fall, will enter the spring season as one of the most talented pass breakers in school history, tied for fifth in the program’s all-time list, with 24 pass deflections.
What makes Needham such a threat is his composure through plays in the air and his ability to swarm to the ball almost instantly. With players like Kalon Beverly, Michael Lewis, Justin Rogers and Kahani Smith backing him in the secondary, Needham could see a lot of success this season.
CJ Reese—Defensive End
The graduate transfer, CJ Reese, out of Kansas State, has been showing his excitement over the school ever since he decided to become a graduate transfer and follow the former K-State coaches.
The 6-foot-2, 250-pound defensive end specializes in rushing the passer and will add much needed depth to the UTEP defensive front. Although he didn’t receive much playing time during his time with the Wildcats, Reese has a lot of potential to see a lot of playing time with the Miners and make a quick impact on the field almost instantly.
Another interesting thing to see is what defensive coordinator Mike Cox decides as his defensive look. Kansas State would run a 4-3 and switch almost instantly to a 4-2-5 scheme, so this will be the first sight at what Cox will decide to do with his defense.
Throughout his two seasons stepping in as a cornerback, Justin Rogers has put up some impressive film and turned some heads in the defensive backfield. The junior out of Los Angeles is a playmaker and able to wreak havoc in the pass game.
He is also an open-field tackler for the defense, as he finished last season with 39 tackles. Through 2017, he caused two key turnovers with a forced fumble and an interception, and has the definite potential to do more this season.
If Rogers can emerge among the corners this spring ball season, he could lock in the second starting corner spot and be among the conference’s best secondary men.