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UTEP football looks for revitalization on both sides of the ball

Priscilla Gomez
Offensive coordinator Mike Canales goes over the playbook with Kai Locklsey (left) and Calvin Brownholtz (right) camp.

After a dismal year that saw the UTEP Miners football team go winless, changes needed to be made.

With change comes a breath of fresh air for a team that was attempting to relive its glory days when they brought former head coach Mike Price out of retirement during that dreadful 0-12 season.

Exit screen out the old era of UTEP athletics and enter the new era of athletics with the hire of Jim Senter.

Senter’s first mission into his “wake up the sleeping giant” mantra was the hire of new head coach Dana Dimel. The former Kansas State offensive coordinator then tasked to end the longest losing streak in the FBS,  preferred to go with familiarity when it came to his coaching staff.

He snagged away Tennessee Volunteers quarterback coach Mike Canales and brought along the first of many Kansas State Wildcats to El Paso with linebackers coach Mike Cox. The two Mike’s are in charge of leading the offensive and defensive sides of the ball.

“The nice thing about the assistant (coaches) we’ve been together for thirty-something years in the making,” Dimel said.

A coaching staff with previous experience working with each other found its way to the Sun Bowl with aspirations of creating a new era.

“It’s all about what’s best for this team and putting our players in a position to be successful and that’s the key to the whole thing,” said offensive coordinator Mike Canales. “If they keep working together and stay together as a unit, great things are going to happen.”

Canales is inheriting an offense that averaged 11.7 points per game last season. That offense was responsible for a measly  19 total touchdowns, seven passing and nine rushing. One of the reasons the Miners struggled was the lack of explosive plays called. The offense was a run by committee-orientated scheme.

This season is different; the talk of camp has been the quarterbacks. Canales understands there’s competition at the position but he wants his quarterbacks to be true to themselves.

“I just want our players to play hard put a good effort and play sound technique and fundamentals,” Canales said. “Just make great decisions with what they do. Just be them. They don’t have to be Deshaun Watson, (or) Baker Mayfield, just be Ryan Metz, Kai Locksley, Brandon Jones, Mark Torres, Calvin Brownholtz and Alex Fernandes, I don’t want them to be no different.”

With the new regime in, Miner fans should expect  to see an offense that is a complete 360 from seasons past. The run heavy offense of the past  morphed its way to a complete offense that is ready for many different looks from opposing defenses.

“It’s very dense. Very thick that’s going to be good for us moving forward,” Locksley said. “So whatever new defenses or new types of schemes or blitzes that teams try to throw at us we typically have something in the playbook for that.”

On the defensive side of the ball, defensive coordinator Mike Cox has inherited a special group. The defense will be led by an experienced secondary, but what the coaches were able to do to make the defense the talk of camp has been the acquisitions through graduate transfers at the defesnive ine and the linebacker positions. Kansas State transfer CJ Reese will look to be the captain of the d-line, while Oregon Ducks transfer A.J. Hotchkins will look to make the linebacker core formidable.

The defense last season at times kept the Miners in the game but were put in bad field position which allowed them to give up 36.7 points per game to opposing offenses. The switch to an even defensive line should be able to create havoc for opposing quarterbacks.

“There’s a lot of experience on the defense,” Dimel said. “Going to the even front I think will be exciting. Really try to create more pressure on the quarterback with even looks. Be a little bit more versatile with what we’re doing.”

Cox spearheaded the implementation of this new defense, which will focus more on a gap control scheme, instead of two-gapping the way the Miners previously did on defense.  Cox has been impressed with his defense and how they’ve been able to grasp the schemes.

“Once we get ourselves better, then we’ll worry about all the other stuff, but right now we’re still learning and getting better and every day is a whole new process,” Cox said. “But I do like the want to of these guys, its been positive so far.”

The players see the difference and are excited for the season to start, as senior cornerback Nik Needham said during The Prospector Sports Podcast, “We feel like we’re going to be a real problem for offenses in C-USA.”


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UTEP football looks for revitalization on both sides of the ball