2013 UTEP Preview – Offense
CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - UTEP Miner Offense
Preview 2013 - Offense
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What You Need To Know: Head coach Sean Kugler tabbed Patrick Higgins to be his first offensive coordinator with the Miners. The pair actually coached together in El Paso from 1998-2000. Higgins' top objective in Year 1 will be to develop a new quarterback. Blaire Sullivan led Carson Meger at the end of spring, but things don't truly get interesting until Texas A&M transfer Jameill Showers arrives in the summer. The potential is there for the newcomer to have an immediate and profound impact on an offense that ranked 100th nationally in scoring a year ago. UTEP likes its athletes at the skill positions, rarely a concern in these parts. RB Nathan Jeffery has enormous potential if he can stay healthy, Jordan Leslie heads a well-sized group of receivers and the tight ends are unusually deep and experienced for a school that doesn't typically overwork its tight ends. The unit will be a work in progress for Higgins, whose holdovers have a lot of bad habits that need to be broken.
Star of the offense: Junior RB Nathan Jeffery
Passing: Carson Meger
46-76, 504 yds, 1 TD, 3 INTs
Rushing: Nathan Jeffery
184 carries, 897 yds, 7 TDs
Receiving: Jordan Leslie
51 catches, 973 yds, 6 TDs
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior RT Mike Amdall
Unsung star on the rise: Junior QB Jameill Showers
Best pro prospect: Jeffery
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Jeffery, 2) Junior WR Jordan Leslie, 3) Showers
Strength of the offense: Athletic quarterbacks, running back, tight ends, big receivers
Weakness of the offense: Inexperience under center, pass protection, passing efficiency, third-down conversions, red-zone conversions
The Miners are in the market for a new quarterback now that Nick Lamaison has exhausted his eligibility. The frontrunner exiting spring was sophomore Blaire Sullivan,though his name has been written in pencil atop the depth chart. The 6-3, 210-pounder from San Antonio created separation in March and April with his improved mechanics and an ability to make things happen with his feet. In five appearances as a rookie, he went 21-of-43 for 390 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. However, he also finished second on the team in rushing with 240 yards and two scores on 59 carries.
Senior Carson Meger fell behind in the derby, failing to match his younger teammates' potential or physical ability. The 5-11, 200-pound former walk-on has limitations, but does have three valuable career starts on the resume, and appeared in eight games last year, going 46-of-76 for 504 yards, one touchdown and three picks.
Watch Out For .... August Showers. The job is Sullivan's to lose, which is exactly what might happen once Jameill Showers arrives in the summer. The transfer from Texas A&M is best known for losing out to Johnny Manziel last offseason. Showers throws a tremendous ball, with maximum RPMs, has a high football IQ and can extend plays with his feet. Quarterbacks of his caliber usually only visit El Paso when they're participating in the Sun Bowl.
Strength: Athletic quarterbacks. Whether it's Showers and Sullivan or Sullivan and Showers, UTEP's top two quarterbacks will both be dangerous outside the pocket. They're athletic on designed plays and especially lethal once the play breaks down. The fact that Showers also spins beautiful spirals is a differential that has the locals pumped about his arrival.
Weakness: Inexperience. Sullivan is still just a little over a year removed from his high school graduation. And yet, he's actually attempted more passes at this level than Showers, who is 31-of-49 for 359 yards, two touchdowns and a pick in a career of mop-up duty. A learning curve for both passers is going to be inevitable.
Outlook: Former teammates and coaches rave about Showers as a total package-type player behind center. Current teammates and coaches can't wait to get him into the fold. Sullivan, though, is not going to go away with a fight. But unless Showers flops in August, it's hard to see him not in the huddle once New Mexico comes to town on Sept. 7.
The new staff is eager to see what junior Nathan Jeffery can do with an entire season as the feature back. In 2012, the 5-11, 205-pound focal point of the offense showed flashes of his sizable potential, rushing for a team-high 897 yards and seven touchdowns on 184 carries. He ran with determination and just enough giddy-up to get to the edge on opposing defenses. However, he also missed a fair amount of time, almost one-third of the season, to injury. The Miners feel that with 250 or so touches, Jeffery will be a sure-fire 1,000-yard back, and more than just a garden variety honorable mention All-Conference USA selection.
Behind Jeffery is 6-0, 190-pound sophomore Autrey Golden, the fastest member of the backfield. He's a quick-hitter, doing most of his damage a year ago on special teams. He also carried the ball 36 times for 163 yards, and caught eight balls for 88 yards.
The Miners plan to use a fullback this season, a job that'll go to 5-11, 210-pound junior Josh Bell.The former tailback is no stranger to touches, especially in short-yardage situations. A year ago, he earned 33 carries for 116 yards and three scores, and will be used near the goal line.
Watch Out For .... Jeffery's health. Sure, he's fine now, but he's also not enduring any punishment. For the Miners to reach their offensive goals in 2013, they'll need No. 25 to play at full strength, from the opener right through the end of the regular season.
Strength: Versatility. Not only is Jeffery an exciting running back in the traditional sense, but he's also a gifted 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 the quarterbacks. Golden, too, is the kind of multi-tooled weapon who'll invite the staff to use him in different ways.
Weakness: Durability. The only thing that'll keep Jeffery from rushing for 1,000 yards and competing for All-Conference USA honors is his own injury problems. He's not made of glass, but he has missed enough series and games in El Paso for the locals to be concerned whenever he's slow to get off the turf.
Outlook: The Miners house a couple of talented options in the running game, again, provided everyone can stay off the trainer's table. Jeffery is the kind of building-block performer that offenses can be built around. And Golden has the speed and upside to turn 75 or so carries into 400 yards and a handful of scores off the bench.
While the Miners are losing arguably their top receiver from 2012, Michael Edwards, they believe that a go-to target remain in El Paso. Junior Jordan Leslie was more than just a nice complement last fall, tying for the team lead with 51 receptions for 973 yards and six touchdowns. Plus, he has more imposing measurables than Edwards, a 6-2, 210-pound who knows how to use his body to gain advantages on defenders. Leslie has been highly productive in each of his first two seasons, setting the stage for what promises to be a dynamite second-half to his UTEP career at "X". With enough growth, both on and away from the field, he's teed up to get a crack at playing on Sundays.
The likely replacement for Edwards at "Z" will be junior Ian Hamilton,who's about to enter his second season out of Pasadena (Calif.) City College. In his debut as a Miner, he caught just five passes for 42 yards. However, at 6-5 and 220 pounds, he has the size to create mismatches on defensive backs, while being tough to stop in the red zone.
UTEP is going to be rich in quality tight ends, a position the coaching staff hopes to employ liberally this fall. The starter is junior Eric Tomlinson,a well-sized 6-6, 255-pounder who needs to be targeted more than last season's four receptions for 26 yards. He did miss a couple of games with a broken hand that halted his 2012 momentum. Behind Tomlinson is 6-5, 265-pound senior Craig Wenrick,who filled in admirably. In fact, the big target wound up fourth on the team with 12 grabs for 150 yards and a score.
Just behind Leslie and Hamilton on the outside will be a pair of returning letterwinners, 6-0, 200-pound junior Devin Patterson and 6-1, 190-pound junior Malcolm Trail,respectively. Patterson was actually in the lineup for a half-dozen games last year, but only managed 11 grabs for 126 yards. Trail, too, was no stranger to the starting lineup, and ended up third on the team with 16 receptions for 121 yards. Both receivers must do a better job of getting open and making their own space in the secondary.
Watch Out For .... the tight ends to be utilized more in the passing game this season. The Miners are absolutely loaded at the position. Not only are Tomlinson and Wenrick veterans with starting experience, but so does Kevin Perry,a 6-5, 260-pound senior. UTEP has way too much talent at this spot not to employ it more in 2013.
Strength: Mismatches. If the Miners don't take advantage of their edge in size this fall, write it down as a lost opportunity. UTEP has great length on the outside and at tight end, providing big targets for the quarterback. This unit consistently made plays over the top in 2012, and should continue to do so this fall.
Weakness: Consistency. The receivers simply have to start doing the little things better, like running tight routes and keeping throws off their bodies. This unit was too inconsistent a year ago, failing to properly support the quarterbacks. It's time for all of that physical talent to evolve on the field.
Outlook: The Miners are athletic, well-sized and deep, especially at tight end. In other words, they've got a nice base of talent with which to work. Leslie is go-to receiver material, a playmaker who'll contend for All-Conference USA honors. The junior will be helped immensely if Hamilton can flourish on the other side of the field by picking up some of Edwards' slack.
Three starters return from a year ago to help bolster an O-line coming off a trying 2012 campaign. The anchor of the unit figures to be senior LT Brander Craighead,a third-year starter for the Miners. The 6-6, 280-pounder from Canada was recently selected No. 7 overall by the Calgary Stampeders of the CFL. He has the long arms and the good feet to continue improving as a pass protector in his final year on campus.
Next to Craighead at left guard will once again be 6-3, 280-pound junior Jerel Watkins,a starter in all but one game of his Miners career so far. He's an especially assertive run blocker, getting off the snap and into the second level in a hurry. Watkins is halfway to becoming a four-year starter in El Paso.
The lone returning starter on the right side is junior Kyle Brown at right guard. The 6-2, 280-pounder was in the lineup for every game in 2012, displaying the quickness and fundamentals to help offset his modest size. However, he is prone to getting pushed back off his base.
Junior Paulo Melendez is taking over for steady Eloy Atkinson at center. The 6-2, 315-pound local product was an understudy last season, soaking in all he could at a position UTEP has excelled at for years. Melendez was a rock in the spring, leaving no doubts that this will be his job for the next two years.
The other newcomer to the lineup will be 6-4, 310-pound junior Mike Amdall,the backup to James Nelson in 2012. He saw action for the first time last season, earning the snaps he hopes will lead to a somewhat smoother transition into a dramatically expanded role. Looking to steal the job from Amdall will be Cisco (Tex.) College transfer Chris Thomas, a physical 6-4, 320-pounder, with solid run blocking skills.
The Miners' two veterans off the bench will be 6-4, 315-pound senior OT Wayne Frazier and 6-4, 315-pound junior OG Corin Brooks,both of whom earned letters as reserves a year ago.
Watch Out For .... Melendez to be just fine as a starter. No, he won't be Atkinson right away, especially in terms of calling out line signals, but he's smart, hard-working and already on the verge of earning the respect of the more seasoned teammates around him.
Strength: The left side. In Craighead and Watkins, the Miners boast a left side flush with experience and ability. It's behind this pair of potential all-stars that UTEP will most likely direct the majority of its running plays.
Weakness: Pass protection. New season. Same doggone worries. The O-line actually improved a season ago, yet still wound up No. 96 nationally in sacks allowed. Craighead is a good on the left side, but Amdall and Thomas are unknown commodities on the right side.
Outlook: UTEP is rarely better than average along the offensive line, and this season will be no different. After underachieving in 2012, the Miners will be unveiling a couple of new starters at center and right tackle. To the left of the pivot should be stable, with Craighead and Watkins vying for all-league recognition.
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