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

UTEP Miners Preview 2006 - UTEP Miner Offense

What you need to know ... It'll be another year of bombing away after finishing ninth in the nation in passing offense while averaging 32 points per game. Jordan Palmer is back for his fourth year as the starting quarterback with the talent, experience and arm to have another big season, but he has to cut down on his interceptions. The receiving corps should be better than ever with Johnnie Lee Higgins the veteran leading a relatively inexperienced but very promising group. RB Marcus Thomas has the potential to be an all-star behind an average line that won't be a liability.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Jordan Palmer
258-434, 3,503 yds, 29 TD, 19 INT
Rushing: Marcus Thomas
149 carries, 791 yds, 5 TD
Receiving: Johnnie Lee Higgins
49 catches, 837 yds, 9 TD

Star of the offense: Senior QB Jordan Palmer
Player that has to step up and become a star: Sophomore OT Tyler Ribitzki
Unsung star on the rise: Junior WR Joe West
Best pro prospect: Palmer
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Palmer, 2) WR Johnnie Lee Higgins, 3) RB Marcus Thomas
Strength of the offense: Passing, experience
Weakness of the offense:
Turnovers, proven number two quarterback and running back

Jordan Palmer has the potential to be the Conference USA Player of the Year with the arm, experience, and skills to carry the Miners to the title. However, it's telling that the team seems to lose, or struggles, when he has his biggest passing games. He throws way too many interceptions needing to cut his mistakes in half for the offense to be more consistent. The backup situation is interesting with gigantic bomber Brandis Dew and speedy former Florida State receiver Lorne Sam pushing for the number two job and to get in a position to be the 2007 starter.
The key to the unit: Jordan Palmer has to be more efficient and mistake free while the backups a number two quarterback needs to be settled on.
Quarterback Rating: 7.5

Projected Starter
- Jordan Palmer, Sr. - 258-434, 59%, 3,503 yds, 29 TD, 19 INT, 2 rushing touchdowns
Palmer is back for his fourth season as the starter meaning this has to be the year everything comes together. He has bombed away for 7,482 passing yards and 62 touchdowns holding the UTEP record in just about every category, but he also has thrown a whopping 50 interceptions including eight during the team's puzzling three game demise to end the season. He has the size, the arm, and the knowledge of the offense, and now he needs to stop forcing plays that aren't there and become a better overall decision maker. He has 15 multi-interception games and has thrown a pick in 24 of the 34 games he has played.

Top Backups
- Brandis Dew, RFr.
Dew is a massive, too massive at times, 6-5, 265-pound bomber. He has a huge arm and can be a precision passer with a little bit of mobility as long as he keeps his weight down. He was a way-too-heavy 290 pounds last year.

- Lorne Sam, Soph.
An interesting prospect to throw a curve ball in the quarterback mix, Sam is a former Florida State wide receiver who will push hard for the number two job as well as likely seeing some time catching passes. He's not nearly the passer Jordan Palmer and Brandis Dew are, but he's fast adding a mobility element that's missing from the Miner quarterbacks.

Running Backs
The Miners lost good backs in Tyler Ebell and Matt Austin, but the emergence of Marcus Thomas at the end of last year gives hope that the ground attack can be even better. There's a question mark among the depth with big Johan Givens and speedy Jon Lane battling for the number two job, but neither has enough experience to be counted on right away as a starter. Incoming freshmen Jason Williams and Donald Buckram will look to get into the mix right away.
The key to the unit: A couple of backs need to emerge to give Marcus Thomas a little bit of help. Thomas needs to build on the productive end to the 2005 season.
Running Back Rating: 6

Projected Starters
- Marcus Thomas, Jr. - 149 carries, 791 yds, 5.3 ypc, 5 TD, 32 catches, 440 yds, 13.8 ypc, 3 TD
The star recruit of a few years ago lived up to his promise leading the team in rushing and finishing third on the team in receiving. He's a big 6-1 and 215 pounds who got a lot faster this off-season working his 40 time down to around 4.4. He turned into a perfect fit for the attack growing into a great receiver as well as a workhorse over the last five games of the season carrying it 110 times over the final stretch. He set a school record with four straight 100-yard games highlighted by a 122-yard effort against UAB.

Top Backups
- Johan Givens, Jr. - 3 carries, 3 yds
The 220-pound junior is a strong, physical runner who'll add more power than Marcus Thomas. He has to prove he can catch the ball on a consistent basis and he isn't going to tear off too many big plays.
- Jon Lane, Soph. - 11 carries, 27 yds, 2.5 ypc, 1 TD, 2 catches, 29 yds
After starting out his UTEP career in the secondary, Lane moved to running back serving as a reserve last season. He's athletic and fast with the potential to tear off big plays in chunks if he can get a little room to move.

Johnnie Lee Higgins is back for another year as one of Conference USA's most dangerous targets, but the passing game lost Chris Francies, Jayson Boyd and Aaron Givens. Even so, don't expect a drop-off in production with Joe West and Chris Day looking like top playmakers waiting to burst out along with big, fast reserves like Daniel Robinson and David Sutton waiting in the wings. Freshmen Dashan Miller and Dustin Bell are also expected to play big roles. The tight end situation is fantastic with Jake Sears, Jamar Hunt and Casey Mauch all good enough to be reliable targets.
The key to the unit: Chris Day and Joe West have to shine right away as the complementary targets to Johnnie Lee Higgins, and the big JUCO transfers of the past few years, Daniel Robinson and David Sutton, have to play up to their talent level.
Receiver Rating: 7

Projected Starters
- Johnnie Lee Higgins Jr., Sr. - 49 catches, 837 yds, 17.1 ypc, 9 TD
Higgins has next level speed and big-time playmaking ability as the most dangerous target in the attack over the last two seasons. Over his first three years he has caught 108 passes for 1,899 yards and 19 touchdowns with a whopping 17.6 yard-per-catch average while also serving as a top kick and punt returner. He was bottled up a bit over the second half of last season after torching Houston for 156 yards and three touchdowns on the way to catching 30 passes over an early four game stretch, and now he has to be a bigger playmaker for a full season.

- Joe West, Jr. - 19 catches, 246 yds, 12.9 ypc, 2 TD
The 6-2, 210-pound junior is a big, physical target who grew more and more in the offense as last year went on finishing with a six-catch day against Toledo. He's a great athlete who should be a perfect number two receiver to take the heat off Johnnie Lee Higgins.

- Daniel Robinson, Sr.
The 6-4, 200-pound senior sat out last season after catching two passes as a junior. The former JUCO star is a physical receiver who
took over the starting spot after a strong spring.

- Tight end Jake Sears, Jr. - 8 catches, 119 yds, 14.9 ypc
While not the receiver that Jamar Hunt is, Sears is a physical blocker with nice hands and good route running ability. He's a strong blocker at 6-3 and 250 pounds.

Top Backups
- Chris Day, Soph.
Day didn't do anything in his redshirt freshman season after tearing it up as a scout teamer. Now he'll be counted on to be a key receiver on the inside. He's not big at only 5-9 and 175 pounds, but he has the sticky hands and 4.5 speed to grow into dangerous weapon.

- Dashan Miller
, Fr.
Miller has the potential to be a big-time producer in the Mike Price offense. At 6-0 and 200 pounds, he's bigger than starter Chris Day with great hands along with tremendous wheels.
- David Sutton, Sr. - 2 catches, 12 yds, 1 TD
The 6-5, 225-pound senior has the best all-around skills in the corps with 4.3 speed to go along with his size. The former JUCO transfer has too much athleticism and too much talent to be kept on the bench for too long. He'll start out behind Johnnie Lee Higgins Jr.
- Chris Marrow, Sr. - 21 catches, 164 yds, 7.8 ypc, 3 TD
Marrow is a shifty, quick receiver with 87 career catches for 976 yards and eight touchdowns to go along with a history of injuries. He is trying to come back from a banged up knee and should return in time to battle Daniel Robinson and Joe West for time.
- Tight end Jamar Hunt, Soph. - 27 catches, 258 yds, 9.6 ypc, 2 TD
While he'll be listed as a backup behind Jake Sears, the 6-7, 260-pound sophomore will be a key target in two tight end sets and should end up seeing some starting time after finishing fourth on the team in receiving. He turned it on over the second half of last season highlighted by a ten-catch, 88-yard day against UAB.
- Tight end Casey Mauch, Sr. - 5 catches, 29 yds, 5.8 ypc, 1 TD
Mauch is a big, reliable third tight end who's good around the goal line. His playing time has been diminished with the emergence of Jake Sears and Jamar Hunt, but he'll still be a key part of the offense.

Offensive Linemen
The line was decent last year giving up 29 sacks in 458 pass attempts, and now the goal is to be more physical in the running game. The left side has to be replace losing stalwarts Josh House and Jose Garcia, but Oniel Cousins is a great looking prospect at left tackle and Andy Smith is experienced enough to handle himself well at guard. There's experienced depth to rely on, but it'll be a slew of redshirt freshmen who push hardest for playing time as Colby Meek, Cameron Rachke and Daniel Garcia will be the nucleus for the future.

The key to the unit: Provide more of a push for the ground game and be more consistent in pass protection. The tackle play has to be a strength right away.
Offensive Line Rating: 6

Projected Starters
- OT Oniel Cousins, Jr. 
Cousins will look to replace Josh House at left tackle, and he has the athleticism and skills to do it. He's 6-4, 300 pounds, and is one of the team's fastest linemen. He should grow into a strong pass protector.
- OG Andy Smith, Sr.
Smith can play center or guard getting the first look at the left side to replace Jose Garcia. He's experienced and should be good for the running game.
- C Robby Felix, Soph.
Felix won the starting job over Andy Smith last season and now should settle in to the role and be a fringe all-star candidate. He hit the weights hard getting from 265 to 290 while keeping his quickness.
- OG James Riley, Jr.
Riley can play either tackle or guard getting the starting spot again at right guard once he returns from a knee injury. He's a physical blocker who's improving in pas protection.
- OT Tyler Ribitzki, Soph.
Ribitzki took his lumps as a redshirt freshman, but he got better as the year went on finishing as the starter over the final six games. He's 6-5 and 300 pounds with the athleticism and potential to be an all-star.

Top Backups
- T Tim Ford, Jr.
Ford is a very athletic 6-5 and 270 pounds with a little bit of experience. He won't win the left tackle job, but he'll see plenty of time backing up Oniel Cousins.
- T Humberto Padilla, Sr.
The former defensive lineman is still finding his way on the offensive side. He was a JUCO superstar at San Francisco City College as a top interior pass rusher, and now the 6-5, 305-pound senior will push for time at right tackle.
- G Colby Meek, RFr.
The 6-4, 295-pound redshirt freshman is a very strong prospect who'll get every show winning the number two guard spot on both sides. He's not as huge as some of the other prospects, but his strength makes up for it.

Related Stories
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UTEP Preview 2006 - Further Analysis
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UTEP Preview 2006 - Depth Chart
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