The UTEP football team’s 2020 spring practice was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but 2021 spring practice proved to be a big steppingstone for the Miners football team heading into year four of the Dana Dimel era.
With zero COVID related pauses in the Miners’ workout’s over the past few weeks, the positive gelling of having at least 20 starters combined returning on both sides of the ball was evident in some position groups Friday night.
Here are some key takeaways from the Miners first spring game in what felt like forever.
Vanilla defense, no problem
UTEP kept things vanilla on defense in terms of play calling and scheme, but that is not a knock on new defensive coordinator Bradley Dale Peveto, UTEP’s experience and easy flowing execution of their base defense was the main highlight for me.
The Miners were in a base 4-3 or a dime package with an even front for majority of their snaps with all first, second and third team defense’s. First team (orange) did a great job of creating pressure and creating what would have been a few coverage sacks in a full live game with the Miners showing great coverage and length on the back end and just rushing four most of the evening.
Veteran safety Justin Prince looked solid and along with fellow safety Ty’Reke James parlaying with the Miners glaring speed, length and some developing depth in the secondary behind these two experienced pieces.
UTEP got an interception from freshman defensive McKel Broussard who was highly rated as a recruit. And UTEP has a good number of good-looking athletes in the secondary who could develop into depth chart parts come the fall.
Along the defensive line UTEP used a heavy rotation with the orange team, and El Pasoan Josh Ortega looked strong rushing off the edge showing the Miners have some good front line depth along the D-line.
The Miners ran a basic cover-1 man for most of the scrimmage showing cover-2 man in some instances, and the Miners length and speed in the secondary were major strengths that should carry over to the fall.
A lot to be excited about when it comes to the depth and athleticism this defensive unit can develop this season. Finding consistency at linebacker is something to watch in the fall.
Quadraiz Wadley is back, Miners O-line looks solid
The Miners talented senior back looked healthy, explosive, and back in form during Friday’s scrimmage.
UTEP Athletics reported that Wadley ran for 60 yards on the evening and capped a nice-looking drive in the first half with a physical touchdown run from about 12-yards out.
With a stable of Wadley, Deion Hankins, Willie Eldridge, and the versatile Rey Flores, the Miners will rely not only on the depth at running back but the depth and experience they return up front.
A nice surprise in the run game was former Andress running back Jalen Joseph who is a now a redshirt freshman carrying a workhorse like 16 times for 64 yards on Friday, showing some explosion and speed the Miners could also value in the fall.
UTEP also showed off plenty of depth along the offensive line, and the offensive line play was also very clean in majority of situations.
It appears UTEP is still looking to lock down a starting right tackle, but experience and depth is there for this to become a strength along with some potent runners.
Passing game still searching for more playmakers
Miner fans know what they are getting out of returning wideouts Jacob Cowing and Justin Garrett, but behind these two proven pass catchers there will be plenty of competition for depth behind them.
JUCO transfer Tyrin Smith caught four passes for 64 yards and showed some chemistry with UTEP starting quarterback Gavin Hardison with the first team offense. Smith is a crafty route runner who could develop as an explosive third option behind Cowing and Garrett.
The pride of Ysleta High Rey Flores played some wideout and saw some action in the run game giving UTEP not only a versatile but a reliable weapon in their offense.
Another standout was 6’5 Kansas State transfer Nick Ast who could be another prospect to keep any eye on in the fall. The former quarterback could become a nice weapon Dana Dimel could develop, he has the size and athletic ability to become a factor as a pass catcher.
UTEP also was active in targeting more tight ends and fullbacks in the pass game, but major development is still needed there as several drops highlighted those two position groups.
The Miners first and second team offense’s and defense’s looked experienced and sharp for majority of the scrimmage which was a positive outlook for the confidence of returning core of this team heading into the summer and fall.
Developing depth and better discipline seems to be a major aspect Dana Dimel used this spring ball session for and that could help some kids win some jobs in the fall and make this team better.
Right now, the biggest glaring weakness is depth behind starting quarterback Gavin Hardison. Hardison looked okay Friday missing several of his weapons he will have in the fall, but right now UTEP does not have a solid number-two passing quarterback fans can be confident with at the moment.
JUCO transfer Kevin Hurley had what appeared to be a cast on his right arm and could be the guy UTEP needs behind Hardison and is another name to watch in the fall.
Also have to give major credit to head coach Dana Dimel for the minimal roster turnover which allowed UTEP to practice hard this spring and be able to get a good situational look with a new coaching staff with plenty of game like situations that occurred Friday night. The lack of transfers especially coming off a difficult year in 2020 speak volumes of what Dimel and his staff.
Overall, it appears this UTEP team is actually trending in the right direction after Friday’s spring game, the question is can the evident positive development in some areas as noted turn into wins once things are real come September.
Story by Alex Nicolas