2012 UTEP Preview – Offense

CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Aug 11, 2012


CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - UTEP Miner Offense


UTEP Miners

Preview 2012 - Offense

- 2012 UTEP Preview | 2012 UTEP Offense
- 2012 UTEP Defense | 2012 UTEP Depth Chart
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What You Need To Know: The Miners really like the potential of their gunslinging quarterback, Nick Lamaison, but will need to protect him better in 2012 in order to enjoy all of his passing skills. Last season’s front wall returns virtually intact, save for RG Nathan McCage, but also finished last in Conference-USA in sacks allowed. It’s imperative that this veteran unit, built around steady C Eloy Atkinson, gives Lamaison the time he requires to check down and locate one of his open targets. The fact that the quarterback had shoulder problems a year ago is just one more reason that the UTEP blockers need to keep him off the turf. His favorite receivers figure to be Mike Edwards and Jordan Leslie, with young Malcolm Trail earning an expanded role with his effort so far in the offseason. However, the star of the spring on this side of the ball was clearly sophomore RB Nathan Jeffery, who won the starting job and never looked back. He made plays throughout the month of March, capping the session with 123 yards in the spring game. If he’s able to keep the momentum going in the fall, it’ll not only take some heat off Lamaison, but the defense as well.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Nick Lamaison
130-224, 1,718 yds, 12 TDs, 10 INTs
Rushing: Nathan Jeffery
26 carries, 166 yds, 1 TD
Receiving: Mike Edwards
50 catches, 657 yds, 3 TDs

Star of the offense: Senior WR Mike Edwards
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior LT Brander Craighead
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore RB Nathan Jeffery
Best pro prospect: Senior C Eloy Atkinson
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Atkinson, 2) Edwards, 3) Senior QB Nick Lamaison
Strength of the offense: Potential at quarterback, tight ends, run blocking, O-line experience
Weakness of the offense: Accuracy at quarterback, backfield inexperience, pass blocking, red-zone offense

Quarterbacks

The program remains cautiously optimistic about the potential of 6-1, 215-pound senior Nick Lamaison who is about to begin his second year in El Paso after transferring from Mt. San Antonio (Calif.) College. On the one hand, the one-time Lane Kiffin recruit at Tennessee has a live arm, a gunslinger’s mentality and a full season of experience at the school behind him. On the other, though, he was in and out of the lineup with injuries, and had a difficult time delivering under pressure, a job requirement at UTEP. He ended up appearing in nine games, showing good feet, and completing 130-of-224 passes for 1,718 yards, 12 touchdowns and 10 picks.

The likely caddy for Lamaison will once again be junior Carson Meger, a frequent flyer off the sidelines a year ago. Because of the starter’s injury problems, Meger appeared in all 12 games, going 71-of-112 for 669 yards, two touchdowns and five interceptions. The 5-11, 200-pound former walk-on is smart and accurate, but lacks the arm strength to test a defense deep. If No. 13 is on the field, it’s a sign of trouble for the Miners.

Watch Out For .... Lamaison to have at least one or two monster statistical games this fall. He’s the right quarterback in the right offense, who’ll participate in just enough wild shootouts to post impressive numbers. Provided he can remain upright, the senior should surpass last year’s three games with at least three touchdown passes.
Strength: Arm strength. What the coaching staff likes about the incumbent is that he throws a tight spiral, and gets nice zip on his passes. Lamaison will fit the ball into tight windows, unleashing a fastball that’ll force his receivers to be focused and attentive at all times.
Weakness: Errant throws. Okay, so Lamaison didn’t get a lot of help from his blockers, but he still committed far too many unforced in his UTEP debut. He completed just 58% of his throws, and those 10 interceptions are a number that the coaching staff needs to see come down this season.
Outlook: There’s a lot of hope surrounding Lamaison’s second year in El Paso, but a lot of trepidation as well. Will he evolve? Will he get protected? And can he truly lead the UTEP offense to a higher level of production? He’s the clear-cut starter heading into the summer, and a hurler with a high ceiling. The key will be to provide him with enough support so that he can flourish in this system.
Rating: 5.5

Running Backs

All the backfield must do this summer is develop a successor for a running game loses last year’s top three rushers, Joe Banyard, Vernon Frazier and Leilyon Myers. The trio accounted for almost every yard on the ground in 2011, leaving sophomore Nathan Jeffery to begin picking up the pieces. The 5-11, 195-pounder ranked fourth on the team with 166 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries, while adding 10 catches for 124 yards and two more scores. He looked like the feature back in the spring, running with the speed and quickness to evolve into a big-play runner and receiver.

Backing up Jeffery will be fellow sophomore Josh Bell. At 5-11 and 215 pounds, the former walk-on will bring more thump between the tackles and in short yardage than his teammates. After appearing in only two games, carrying the ball three times for four yards, he’s poised to assume a much larger role off the bench for the Miners.

Watch Out For .... Jeffery to be one of the pleasant surprises of this year’s offense. A former key recruit of the Miners, he’s poised to begin performing like it, splitting through the seams of defenses with his burst of speed, vision and quickness. The sophomore has 1,000-yard potential, provided he gets enough touches.
Strength: Versatility. Not only is Jeffery an exciting young running back, but he’s an exciting young pass-catcher as well. He’ll be a three-down performer for the Miners, swinging out of the backfield to receive throws in the flat from QB Nick Lamaison. Jeffery is going to be dangerous whenever he gets the ball out in space.
Weakness: Inexperience. Not only are the top two backs just sophomores, but they combined for only 29 carries in 2011, and one of them arrived to the program as a walk-on. There’s a lot of know-how, such as protecting the pocket and understanding the playbook, that could take a while before Jeffery and Bell are fully up to speed.
Outlook: UTEP is rebuilding in the backfield, but feels it has an emerging contractor in Jeffery. While the sophomore will be operating without a safety net now that three key seniors have graduated, he’s capable of becoming the homerun hitter that this offense sorely craves. Buoyed by a terrific offseason, he’s bucking to become one of Conference USA’s young offensive stars.
Rating: 5

Receivers

The 2012 receiving corps will be constructed around last season’s top two pass-catchers and an underrated group of tight ends. Senior Michael Edwards returns to “Z” receiver for one final year after leading the team with 50 catches for 657 yards and three touchdowns. He also racked up a team-best 24 first downs, coming up with clutch receptions throughout the year. The former transfer from Mt. San Antonio (Calif.) College runs tight routes, showing a penchant for finding the soft spot in opposing defenses.

Last year’s second busiest receiver was Jordan Leslie , who caught 30 balls for 430 yards and two touchdowns in his debut. At 6-2 and 210 pounds, he has the best size among the wide receivers, tracking the deep ball nicely, and creating mismatches with smaller defensive backs. He has the right blend of skills and upside potential to become the Miners’ most dangerous receiver on deep routes.

The newcomer among the starters will be sophomore Malcolm Trail at “A”. Although he only had three receptions for 16 yards as a rookie, he turned the corner during the offseason to nab a hold of a job. A lanky 6-1, 185-pounder, he’s quick in space, and able to take a short hitch and turn it into a significant gain.

UTEP will again be home to a talented collection of tight ends. Leading the way will be starter Kevin Perry , who caught 17 balls for 203 yards and a score in 2011. At 6-5 and 255 pounds, he has the long gait and large frame to be a threat in the passing game, yet is also developing as an in-line blocker. Perry’s athleticism can also be witnessed on the hardwood, where he’s a backup forward on the Miners basketball team.

The Miners will be looking to a pair of redshirt freshmen reserves to help bolster the team’s depth at wide receiver. Ishmael Harrison , who’ll back up Edwards, was one of the stars of the spring, often working with the first team in four-wide sets. The 5-11, 190-pounder consistently made plays, schooling much older defensive backs. At 5-8 and 160 pounds, Felix Neboh lacks ideal size, yet continues to push Trail for the starting “A” job. He possesses the kind of blazing speed that’s going to entice the staff to get the ball in his hands.

Watch Out For .... Leslie to overtake Edwards as the Miners’ receiver who’ll get the most attention from opposing defensive backs. He has great size, just enough speed to get behind the secondary and now a full year of experience to call upon when he endures a mini-slump. The sophomore is only going to get better with more time on the field.
Strength: The tight ends. The wide receivers are good, but the tight ends just might be better. Perry is a well-sized and athletic returning starter, but he’s far from alone. Behind him, 6-6, 260-pound sophomore Eric Tomlinson and junior 6-5, 260-pound Craig Wenrick also have the size and soft hands to become factors in the passing game when given an opportunity.
Weakness: Consistency. Now that all of the holdovers are a year older, they have to start performing like it. While it won’t always show up in a box score, the wide receivers and tight ends must begin doing the little things, such as running crisp routes and eliminating dropped throws, in order to support the quarterbacks.
Outlook: With a little more attention to detail, the UTEP wide receivers and tight ends have a chance to become one of the strengths of the offense. There’s a good mix of size, speed and experience for the quarterbacks to target. Edwards is a steady go-to guy, Leslie is the up-and-comer and the redshirt freshmen are just brash enough to provide the occasional instant offense from off the bench.
Rating: 6

Offensive Line

After being forced to rebuild from the bottom up in 2011, UTEP will begin this season with five returning starters. Naturally, the hope is that the unit can take a noticeable step forward after struggling badly last season. The crew will take its orders from senior C Eloy Atkinson , the three-time letterwinner who started all 12 games a year ago. He’s been on the Rimington Trophy watch list in consecutive years, succeeding with a terrific work ethic and a great feel for the position.

At the other most critical position up front, left tackle, junior Brander Craighead is prepared to start for a second straight year. The 6-6, 280-pounder from Canada has a nice base of skills with which to work, such as light feet and long arms, but needs to do a markedly better job of keeping the pocket clean than he did last season.

Lining up behind Craighead will be one of the veteran backups, 6-6, 280-pound James Martin. Injuries forced the newcomer from Mt. San Antonio (Calif.) into the huddle for four starts in 2011, which ought to help with his development this season.

At right tackle, enormous James Nelson is looking to reprise a role he played in the final eight games of 2011. Yet another former transfer from junior college, Ventura (Calif.) Junior College, he’ll use his immense power and 6-7, 350-pound frame to completely neutralize opposing pass rushers. It’s when Nelson faces smaller and quicker ends that his feet can sometimes get tangled up as he goes in reverse to pass protect.

The program believes it has a building block at left guard in 6-3, 285-pound sophomore Jerel Watkins. He started all 12 games of his rookie year, playing with the punch and the athleticism that this coaching staff looks for in its offensive linemen.

The least experienced member of the line will be 6-2, 280-pound sophomore Kyle Brown who is currently holding off 6-4, 315-pound fellow sophomore Corin Brooks. While Brown is a much smaller player than the competition, he has light feet, and is the better technician of the two.

Watch Out For .... Atkinson to become the undisputed leader of the group. He’s one of two seniors expected to be in the lineup, and is about to enter his fifth season in the program. He’s vocal and intelligent, setting the tone for the blockers around him.
Strength: Run blocking. With a line entirely comprised of first-time starters, the Miners excelled at run blocking in 2011, creating the space needed for the backs to average 4.5 yards per carry. They’re quick off the snap, get to the second level in a hurry and will likely be even better now that all but one starter is back.
Weakness: Pass protection. UTEP’s struggles in pass protection were a huge reason why QB Nick Lamaison spent so much time on the disabled list. The Miners ranked 106th nationally in sacks allowed, a dire situation that’ll only improve if Craighead and Nelson start doing a much better job of sliding out to seal off the edge.
Outlook: The Miners will be better at the point of attack, but by how much will dictate the growth of the offense as a whole. Four starters return, which is a good thing. However, it’s incumbent upon each of the veterans to raise the level of his game, especially when the quarterback is dropping back to throw.
Rating: 5

- 2012 UTEP Preview | 2012 UTEP Offense
- 2012 UTEP Defense | 2012 UTEP Depth Chart
- UTEP Previews 2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006