2011 UTEP Preview – Offense
UTEP WR Donavon Kemp
UTEP WR Donavon Kemp
Posted May 21, 2011

CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - UTEP Miner Offense

UTEP Miners

Preview 2011 - Offense

- 2011 UTEP Preview | 2011 UTEP Offense
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What You Need To Know: The Miner offense is in big trouble heading into 2011, and everyone around El Paso knows it. UTEP wasn't exactly clicking when it was flush with veterans, and now it must replace 10 starters, including the entire line, star WR Kris Adams, and the all-time leading passer Trevor Vittatoe. Co-coordinators Bob Connelly and Aaron Price are going to earn every penny of their paychecks this fall. This offseason will take on particular importance, with the program looking for answers everywhere. Exiting spring, transfer Nick Lamaison, who had a cup of coffee at Tennessee, was in the lead at quarterback. His veteran support staff will include a pair of cagey veterans, senior RB Joe Banyard and WR Donavon Kemp. However, no one will reach his potential if the line can't somehow pull together on the fly.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Carson Meger
1-3, 10 yds, 0 TDs, 0 INTs
Rushing: Joe Banyard
109 carries, 623 yds, 8 TDs
Receiving: Marlon McClure
30 catches, 343 yds, 1 TD

Star of the offense: Senior RB Joe Banyard
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior QB Nick Lamaison
Unsung star on the rise: Redshirt freshman LG Jerel Watkins
Best pro prospect: Senior WR Donavon Kemp
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Banyard, 2) Kemp, 3) Junior C Eloy Atkinson
Strength of the offense: Depth in the running game, speed and athleticism at the skill positions
Weakness of the offense: Inexperience at quarterback, rebuilding offensive line, pass protection, turnovers


State of the Unit: For the first time in four years, the Miners are in a position to develop a starting quarterbacks and muddle through a bunch of contenders. The most prolific passer in UTEP history, Trevor Vittatoe leaves a hole in the backfield that'll be difficult to fill. More than just a quality passer who threw for more than 12,000 yards and 97 touchdowns, he was one of the team leaders and a face of the program.

The competition to replace Vittatoe behind center is on. After four quarterbacks competed in the spring, the coaching staff has decided to put 6-1, 205-pound junior Nick Lamaison in the pole position heading into summer. A former Lane Kiffin recruit at Tennessee, he bolted Knoxville around the time the coach did, honing his skills at Mt. San Antonio (Calif.) College for the last two seasons. He's a gunslinger, with the right mentality to fit into the passer-friendly UTEP attack.

Lamaison is being tailed by three Miner teammates. Redshirt freshman Javia Hall was one of Mike Price's key recruits of 2010, an athletic quarterback with a strong arm. While raw in his delivery, few around El Paso doubt he has the potential to be the quarterback of the future. Sophomore Carson Meger is a 5-11, 200-pound sophomore, who began his career as a walk-on. While he has physical limitations, no one in this group is going to outwork him. Prior to the 2010 season, 6-1, 220-pound senior Tate Smith transferred over from New Mexico, where he walked on to the program. He got a taste of action in four games, but nothing that'll give him an edge in this race.

Watch Out For .... Lamaison to be given every opportunity to secure this job in the summer. Not only does he have more upside as a passer than his peers, but those two seasons of experience in a competitive junior college conference will serve him well as this competition continues.
Strength: A competitive atmosphere. From the moment UTEP wrapped up its New Mexico Bowl loss to BYU, the race to replace Vittatoe was underway. With four very different quarterback jockeying for position, it's forcing each to give maximum effort in the film room, in the weight room, and on the practice field.
Weakness: Experience at this level. Nil. That's how many relevant snaps the Miner quartet has taken in El Paso. Half of the quarterbacks failed to earn a scholarship, one is a redshirt freshman, and the favorite to start arrived from junior college in January. UTEP has a serious dearth of experience and proven players under center, with the season just a few months away.
Outlook: Although Vittatoe was very shaky and error-prone over his final two seasons, at least the program knew what to expect. With his replacements, however, the Miners are shooting in the dark, hoping that one reliable hurler emerges. Lamaison has a shot to be the next gunslinger in Price's brigade if he locks down the job in the summer. If he was good enough for the SEC, the hope is that he'll fit in nicely in Conference USA.
Rating: 4.5

Running Backs

State of the Unit: Star RB Donald Buckram was never quite able to get healthy enough in 2010 to deliver an appropriate encore to his monster junior year. While the Miner running game suffered accordingly, his absence did force the program to build its depth and use additional players. The current team will reap the benefits, having already done a dry run on life after Buckram.

When Buckram was on the shelf, 5-11, 205-pound senior Joe Banyard came off the bench to start five games and catch the attention of the coaching staff. He's a blue-collar runner, a former walk-on who'll also pitch in on special teams or wherever needed. Named honorable mention All-Conference USA, he ran 109 times for 623 yards and eight scores, adding 17 catches for another 107 yards.

Coming off the bench will be two very different senior runners. Leilyon Myers is a physical runner, 6-1, 225-pounder who can work the area between the tackles. A former transfer from Washington and Palomar (Calif.) College, he rushed for 221 yards and six scores on 51 carries as a backup a year ago. On the opposite spectrum is 5-6, 175-pound Vernon Frazier , a change-of-pace and ideal option on third downs. The big-play guy of the trio, he ran for 231 yards and two touchdowns on 38 carries, while catching eight passes for 74 yards.

Watch Out For .... Banyard to approach 1,000 yards. Is he an NFL-ready back? No. However, he has a tremendous work ethic and is going to fight for every yard. Now that there's an opportunity for 18-20 carries a game, he has a realistic shot of being one of the league's more productive runners.
Strength: Diversity. The Miners have a nice mix of running styles entering the new season. Banyard is the workhorse. Myers is a force in short yardage. And Frazier provides the wiggle and a good set of hands out of the backfield. Together, they'll give defenses different looks throughout the year.
Weakness: A breakaway back. Sure, Frazier has that potential, but he's unlikely to earn more than a half-dozen carries a game. Banyard and Myers are more methodical runners, the kinds of backs who'll get you four yards at a pop, but rarely get around the corner and into the secondary.
Outlook: As long as Buckram circa 2009 isn't the measuring stick, UTEP is going to like its situation out of the backfield. Banyard is a steady performer, acquitting himself nicely a year ago, and Myers and Frazier will be capable supplements coming off the bench and giving breathers.
Rating: 6


State of the Unit: Who steps up and replaces the star on the outside, graduating "Z" receiver Kris Adams? It's a question the Miners need to answer because it was pretty much Adams and then everyone else a year ago, as he caught 47 passes for 1,070 yards and 14 touchdowns. UTEP will try to patch this group together with a blend of holdovers and junior college transfers, a must for whoever wins the quarterback job.

Almost by default, 6-1, 195-pound senior Donavon Kemp shapes up as the early choice to be the go-to guy. The starter at "X", he's the only sure-fire returner to start more than half the season in 2010. He was actually in the lineup for the first seven games, catching 18 balls for 181 yards and two scores, before injuring his ACL. A dangerous downfield threat, the Miners are eager to see what he can do with a full season as the primary target.

After paying his dues and earning three letters, 6-2, 200-pound senior Russell Carr is finally getting a chance to start at "A" receiver. Despite lettering and starting three games, he caught just seven balls for 60 yards in 2010. At "Z" receiver, 6-1, 185-pound Lavorick Williams is first in line to be in the rotation. A former New Mexico State transfer, he has tremendous speed to go along with a long and lean frame.

Attrition took a bit out of the tight ends as well, marking the end of Jonny Moore's career as a starter. The favorite to replace him is 6-5, 225-pound sophomore Kevin Perry , who lettered and caught three passes for 53 yards last year. An athletic big man, he has the potential to be a real seam-buster.

Watch Out For .... the fate of 5-8, 145-pound junior Marlon McClure . Suspended in the spring, he'll have an important role in this offense if he's cleared to play. Diminutive, yet lightning quick, he caught 30 passes for 343 yards and a score, and has shown how explosive he can be on special teams.
Strength: Length. The Miners continue to show a propensity for attracting tall and athletic receivers to El Paso. Kemp, Carr, and Williams are all above 6-0, which is going to give them a distinct advantage, especially against some of the conference's smaller defensive backs.
Weakness: Proven go-to guys. With or without McClure, UTEP will enter the 2011 season with a pedestrian collection of pass-catchers. Kemp is the one returning full-timer, but he only averaged a little more than two receptions in his seven starts. At this point, the new starting quarterback has access to marginal talent and no single player he can feed in a pinch.
Outlook: Consistently and game-changing plays are going to elude the Miner receiving corps this fall. The program harbors a bunch of good athletes, but raw wide receivers and tight ends, another speed bump for the passing game. Provided he can bounce back from last year's injury, Kemp has a shot to have a career year in his last season of eligibility.
Rating: 4.5

Offensive Line

State of the Unit: Break out the name tags. The UTEP offensive line is about to undergo an extreme makeover. After playing modestly well with a veteran contingency in 2010, the Miners will be adjusting to five new starters, qualifying as a major overhaul. More than any other unit in El Paso, the coaching staff needs to get this area in order if it plans on competing for a second consecutive bowl game.

Of the five returning lettermen, the staff is particularly excited about the future of 6-3, 300-pound junior C Eloy Atkinson . A versatile letterman over the last two seasons, he's poised to become the leader of this rebuilt unit. To the left of Atkinson figures to be 6-2, 275-pound redshirt freshman Jerel Watkins . He plays bigger than his size and possesses the punch to jar opposing linemen. At right guard, 6-4, 300-pound sophomore Wayne Frazier and 6-4, 325-pound junior James Robinson in a battle that's too close to call. While Frazier was earning a letter in 2010, Robinson was fielding offers as a road-grading run blocker at City College of San Francisco.

Sophomore Brander Craighead is being asked to handle the all-important left tackle spot in his first year as a starter. A 6-6, 300-pound product of Canada, he got his feet wet as a reserve and earned a letter in 2010. Over at right tackle, massive 6-7 and 330-pound James Nelson is locked in at the top spot. A second-year transfer from Ventura (Calif.) College, he has surprisingly good feet and the desired skills to be a pass protector.

Watch Out For .... Watkins to put down a solid foundation in his first season of action. While not the biggest lineman on the roster, he has excellent fundamentals, using his hands and his feet extremely well. The type of guard who'll get out to the second level in a hurry, he has an exciting future as a Miner.
Strength: Athleticism. While there are exceptions, such as Nelson and Robinson, but the UTEP offensive linemen are predominantly agile athletes. They're well-conditioned and do a nice job of getting out of the blocks and out to the second level to create more room for the backs.
Weakness: Inexperience. As if losing five starters to graduation isn't difficult enough, the Miners didn't use a ton of players off the bench in 2010. This is an extremely raw ensemble, with no starting experience and a pressing need for more leaders and reliable blockers.
Outlook: Consistent with the rest of the offense, the Miners will be rebuilding along the offensive line. There's no quick solution to losing five senior starters, something the program is about to realize. While the staff believes it developed a pecking order in the spring, it could take half a season or more for the front wall to mesh and operate as one.
Rating: 4

- 2011 UTEP Preview | 2011 UTEP Offense
- 2011 UTEP Defense | 2011 UTEP Depth Chart
- UTEP Previews  2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006