UTEP Preview 2006 - Defense
UTEP Miners
Posted Aug 6, 2006

UTEP Miners Preview 2006 - UTEP Miner Defense

What you need to know ... The defense melted down over the second half of last season and needs to be far more productive with nine starters returning. The linebacking corps should be excellent with top two tacklers Jeremy Jones and Troy Collavo returning, while the secondary will be one of the most productive in the conference once the corner situation is settled. Alex Obomese leads a good line that should be better if tackles Zach West and Justin Hanel can stay healthy.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Jeremy Jones, 130
Sacks: Alex Obomese, 6.5
Interceptions: Quintin Demps, Joe Fleskoski, 3

Star of the defense: Senior DE Alex Obomese
Player that has to step up and become a star: Senior LB Jason McQuay
Unsung star on the rise: Redshirt freshman FS Braxton Amy
Best pro prospect: Obomese (as a linebacker)
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Obomese, 2) S Quintin Demps, 3) LB Jeremy Jones
Strength of the defense: Experience, safety
Weakness of the defense:

Defensive Line
This was a solid line last season helping to generate 29 sacks while holding up relatively well against the run. Enough experience returns to expect far more production with nine of the top 11 linemen returning led by pass rushing star Alex Obomese on the end. Justin Hanel is an emerging talented at tackle, while Zach West is an all-star if he can stay healthy. There's more than enough depth and talent to form a good rotation.
The key to the unit: A consistent number two pass rusher has to emerge on the other side of Alex Obomese, while more is needed from the tackles against the run.

Defensive Line Rating: 6

Projected Starters
- DE Alex Obomese, Sr. - 57 tackles, 6.5 sacks, 10.5 TFL, 2 interceptions
One of the league's best all-around defenders. the 245-pound senior is a pass rushing terror who got better last season against the run. He's more of an outside linebacker playing end with the speed and quickness to be strong in pass coverage. The only question mark is a knee injury that kept him out of spring ball.

- DT Justin Hanel, Sr. - 46 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 4 TFL
Hanel stepped in when Chris Mineo got banged up and turned out to be the team's top tackling lineman. The experience of last year should help the 285-pound senior become an even bigger playmaker.

- DT Zach West, Sr. - 25 tackles, 5 TFL
West is more than just a run-clogger on the inside, the 295-pound senior showed he can get into the backfield on a regular basis despite battling a slew of nagging injuries. He's a consistent tackler on the left side and should get back to his all-star status of 2004 if he can stay healthy.

- DE Joe Ward, Sr. - 19 tackles. 1.5 TFL
Ward has the experience to be a reliable every down defender, and now he has to become more of a pass rusher with all the attention paid to Alex Obomese on the other side. If he's not getting into the backfield on a regular basis, he'll quickly be a reserve behind Justin Watson.

Top Backups
- DE Reggie Miles, Sr. - 36 tackles, 1 sack, 4.5 TFL
Miles returned after missing a year due to academics and became a top backup behind Alex Obomese. If Obomese has problems with his knee, the 250-pound Miles should be able to step in and be almost as productive helped by some of the best wheels on the line.
- DT James Olaekan, Soph. - 9 tackles, 2 TFL
One of the team's top recruits last season, "King James" showed great promise as a true freshman. Now the 295-pound sophomore has to do even more as the biggest player on the line.
- DE Justin Watson, Sr. - 28 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 4 broken up passes, 5 quarterback hurries
Watson is close to being a top starter. He's a huge 275-pound end with linebacker quickness. After becoming a dangerous pass rusher, he'll push Joe Ward hard for the starting job on the right side.
- DT Ricky Van, Sr. - 14 tackles, 1 sack
Van is an athletic, quick tackle with good size at 285 pounds. He'll be a key reserve behind Zach West as long as he's not limited by a banged up shoulder.

Things should be fine even after losing top NFL prospect Thomas Howard. Jeremy Jones and Troy Collavo eat everything up combining for 242 tackles and 29 tackles for loss last season. Is there a sure tackler on the strongside in place of Howard? It'll be a battle throughout the early part of the season. Redshirt freshmen Brian Wilkins, Landon Goodwell, and the ridiculously strong Alan Kirkland will see plenty of playing time and could form the starting trio in 2007.
The key to the unit: Emeri Spence, Josh Chamois, and Jason McQuay have to do a good job of replacing Thomas Howard on the strongside. Jeremy Jones and Troy Collavo have to stay healthy and be as good as they were last season.
Linebacker Rating: 6.5

Projected Starters
- Jeremy Jones, Sr. 130 tackles, 3 sacks, 14.5 TFL, 2 interceptions
The 235-pound senior went from being a promising reserve to the team's top tackler. He had the skills to be a pass rushing threat, and then he turned on the production doing a little of everything well on the weakside. He's a great athlete who should be even more productive this season after bulking up 15 pounds.

- Troy Collavo, Sr. - 112 tackles. 3.5 sacks, 14.5 TFL, 3 broken up passes
Collavo had to replace long-time Miner star Robert Rodriguez in the middle and did a fantastic job finishing second on the team in tackles while showing great range and speed. He's a smart defender who always seemed in the right position.

- Emeri Spence, Jr. - 16 tackles
The former safety moved over to linebacker and was a decent reserve. He's the fastest of the linebacker prospects with free safety speed playing on the strongside.

Top Backups
- Jason McQuay, Sr. - 14 tackles, 1 interception
The former JUCO superstar has the toughness to replace top NFL draft pick Thomas Howard on the strongside. McQuay made 115 tackles in his last year at Victor Valley JC and has the speed to be a dangerous all-around playmaker. He's not nearly the same athlete Howard is, but he's 210 pounds and can move.

- Brian Wilkins, RFr.
One of the stars of the future, the 235-pound redshirt freshman will be groomed behind Jeremy Jones as the starting weakside linebacker in 2007. He's a great tackler with excellent range.

Defensive Backs
This should be a strength if the cornerback situation is settled. The safeties will be among the best in the league with Quintin Demps and Joe Fleskoski sure to combine for around 150 tackles again. There are options on the corner with starters Nate Draughon and Josh Ferguson to be pushed hard by Bryant Tisdale and Tom McCullough. There are several top prospects who'll need playing time. Braxton Amy is too athletic to keep off the field, while Da-mon Cromartie and Lance Castleberry are promising hitters.
The key to the unit: Two steady corners need to emerge from the pack and safeties Quintin Demps and Joe Fleskoski have to be as good as they were last season.
Secondary Rating: 6.5

Projected Starters
- CB Nate Draughon, Sr. - 25 tackles, 10 broken up passes
Daughon stepped in and became one of the team's biggest surprises leading the team with ten broken up passes. While he's not a big tackler, he's really fast with a great nose for the ball when it's in the air.

- FS Quintin Demps, Jr. - 78 tackles, 3 interceptions. 6 broken up passes
Demps has been one of the team's leading defensive backs for the last two seasons and should be in the hunt for all-star honors. He's a great hitter with excellent range picking off five passes in two seasons with ten broken up passes and 136 tackles. He'll be the leader of the secondary and should finish in the top five in tackles again.

- SS Joe Fleskoski, Sr. - 75 tackles, 1 sack, 5 TFL, 3 interceptions, 3 broken up passes
A huge, tone-setting hitter, Fleskoski pops like a linebacker and showed improved ability in pass coverage in his breakout season. He was on his way to a big year as a sophomore before suffering a knee injury, but there were no ill-effects shown last year. He's good enough against the pass to play free safety if needed.

- CB Josh Ferguson, Jr. - 31 tackles, 2 interceptions, 5 broken up passes
He's a small 5-7 and 185 pounds, but he's tremendously quick and isn't afraid to make the tough tackle. He started in seven games last year and now will be pushed hard by Tim McCullough for a starting spot.

Top Backups
- CB Bryant Tisdale, Sr. - 14 tackles
Tisdale is expected to challenge for the starting left cornerback job once he returns healthy after breaking his hand. He's a good tackler for his size with nice quickness.
- CB Tim McCullouch, Sr. - 5 tackles, 1 TFL
The former JUCO transfer will get every shot at the starting job on the right side. At 5-11 and 180 pounds, he's bigger than the 5-7 Josh Ferguson with more speed.
- SS Phillip Moss, Sr. - 12 tackles
The former quarterback is just now getting the hang of playing in the secondary. He's a fast strong safety and a good special teamer.
- FS Braxton Amy, RFr.
The best athlete in the secondary. the 6-0, 195-pound star recruit of last year will see a little time somewhere. He can jump out of the stadium and has terrific range, but he'll have a hard time seeing action at free safety with Quintin Demps holding down the job.

Special Teams
This could be the best group of special teams in Conference USA if Johnnie Lee Higgins can do a bit more on kickoff returns. The senior averaged 22.4 yards per try, but the team averaged a mere 19 yards per return. Higgins was a solid punt returner averaging 9.4 yards per kick. The coverage units were fantastic, and should be again. Both kickers return led by all-star-to-be Reagan Schneider, who's one of the nation's best long-distance field goal kickers. Punter Ryan Hotchkiss doesn't boom it, but he's effective.
The key to the unit: Hope for more of the same. A few longer boots from Ryan Hotchkiss would be nice and a few longer kick returns from Johnnie Lee Higgins would be gravy.
Special Teams Rating: 8.5

Projected Starters
- PK Reagan Schneider, Sr. - 18-23 FGs, 41-41 extra points
Schneider had a fantastic year hitting seven of nine field goals from beyond 40 yards showing off one of the nation's most consistent deep legs. He missed three kicks inside the 40, but he more than made up for it with his deep shots.
- P Ryan Hotchkiss, Sr. - 45 punts, 1,739 yds, 38.6 yards per kick, 9 inside the 20
Hotchkiss didn't get a whole bunch of blast on his kicks, but he was tremendously effective at working within the system as UTEP finished 24th in the nation in net punting. He needs to pin it deep on a more regular basis and could use a crushing kick or two now and then.

Related Stories
UTEP Preview 2006 - Depth Chart
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Aug 6, 2006
UTEP Preview 2006 - Further Analysis
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Aug 6, 2006
UTEP Preview 2006 - Offense
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Aug 6, 2006

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