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2009 UTEP Preview - Offense
UTEP QB Trevor Vittatoe
UTEP QB Trevor Vittatoe
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Jul 18, 2009


CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - UTEP Miner Offense

UTEP Miners

Preview 2009 - Offense


- 2009 UTEP Preview | 2009 UTEP Offense
- 2009 UTEP Defense | 2009 UTEP Depth Chart

- 2008 UTEP Preview | 2007 UTEP Preview | 2006 UTEP Preview 


What you need to know:
Hey, with Trevor Vittatoe behind center and Kris Adams and Jeff Moturi catching his passes, who’d blame UTEP for wanting to air it out 45 times a game? It’s clearly what it does best. The Miners, however, would like more offensive balance in 2009 after finishing 14th nationally through the air and just 90th on the ground. This is still Vittatoe’s team, but more contributions from Donald Buckram, Vernon Frazier, and newcomer Leilyon Myers will inject a much-needed element of unpredictability. Although the line is big, physical, and very deep, it must develop a successor for all-star C Robby Felix and keep Vittatoe from running for cover on every other pass play.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Trevor Vittatoe
224-407, 3,101 yds, 25 TD, 7 INT
Rushing: Terrell Jackson
396 carries, 202 yds, 1 TD
Receiving: Jeff Moturi
65 catches, 891 yds, 13 TD

Star of the offense: Junior QB Trevor Vittatoe
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior C Tanner Cullumber
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore RB Vernon Frazier
Best pro prospect: Junior WR Kris Adams
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Vittatoe, 2) Adams, 3) Senior WR Jeff Moturi
Strength of the offense: The passing attack, left side of the line, the receivers
Weakness of the offense: The running game, pass protection

Quarterbacks

Projected Starter: Some pretty good quarterbacks have passed through El Paso over the years. Junior Trevor Vittatoe is well on his way to becoming the best to ever wear the blue and orange. In two seasons, he’s been a model of poise and precision, throwing nearly four times as many touchdowns as interceptions and performing in the clutch. As a sophomore, he was a crisp 246-of-418 for 3,274 yards, a school-record 33 touchdowns and only nine interceptions. While the 6-2, 220-pounder doesn’t own a howitzer, he has nice touch on his passes and is off-the-charts in terms of intangibles.   

Projected Top Reserves: The battle for the backup job pits 6-1, 205-pound senior Kyle Wright versus 5-11, 190-pound junior James Thomas. A former walk-on with a dearth of experience, he has a firm grasp of the system and would not quake at the prospect of being called off the sidelines. However, he has limited physical skills compared to Vittatoe, and will only be used in the event of an emergency.

Thomas is the change-of-pace in this equation. Although he won’t be asked to throw much, he does get used extensively as a runner and a receiver out of packages designed to get the ball in his hands. Elusive and fast, he ran 52 times for 352 yards and three scores, while catching a dozen passes for 128 yards. He’s a unique weapon that the Miners will leverage in a variety of ways.  

Watch Out For… a redshirt freshman named Tim Curry. No, he’s absolutely no threat to Vittatoe, but he is the future at the position. A hard-throwing 6-4, 215-pounder, he’s liable to sneak up the depth chart with a growth spurt over the summer. 
Strength: Vittatoe. Even though most of the country couldn’t pick him out of a lineup, Vittatoe has quietly become a real gem in West Texas. With two sterling seasons already in the vault, he has the experience and the drive to be even better over the second half of his career.   
Weakness: Depth. Fortunately, Vittatoe has been durable because the decline after him is precipitous. Wright is a nice veteran to have on the roster, but can you count on him to guide the offense effectively? No one knows. And although Thomas is also a luxury, he’s really a skill position player wearing a quarterback’s number.
Outlook: This is Vittatoe’s team, and as he goes, so go the Miners. He’s the face of this program and the main reason to be optimistic before the start of each season. As long as he’s healthy and given time to operate, UTEP has as good a situation at quarterback as any Conference USA team.
Rating: 7


Running Backs


Projected Starters: Don’t be fooled by the presence of head coach Mike Price and QB Trevor Vittatoe in El Paso. The Miners want to establish the running game, and certainly do better than last year’s measly 122 yards a game. Good news comes from the return of 5-10, 190-pound junior Donald Buckram, who missed time last fall with a shoulder injury and is still working his way back to health. Still, he finished second on the team with 348 yards and two scores on 75 carries, adding 15 receptions for 199 yards. One of the fastest players on the roster, he needs to get more looks in open space.

Projected Top Reserves: Sophomore Vernon Frazier is climbing up the depth chart, pushing for more playing time when the season begins. A spring phenom the last two years, he’s hoping to carry that momentum into August. While not feature-back material at 5-7 and 165 pounds, he has great jets and will make tacklers miss in space. At a minimum, he’s an interesting option as a third-down back.

When the Miners need to move the pile in short yardage or near the goal line, they’ll likely turn to 5-10, 215-pound junior Jason Williams, the biggest and strongest of the backs. Slated for a larger role a year ago, he wound up dislocating his ankle in the spring game and missing the entire 2008 season.

At 5-10 and 210 pounds, sophomore Daniel Palmer also provides a little more power to the ground game. When injuries struck the unit a year ago, he got more chances for playing time, carrying 41 times for 132 yards. A north-south type runner, he’ll be battling Williams to be the team’s short-yardage back.    

Watch Out For… junior-college transfer Leilyon Myers. The program can’t wait for his arrival from Palomar College. A former recruit of Washington, he reminds this staff of former Miner Marcus Thomas, a versatile back, who can make plays as a runner and receiver.
Strength: Speed. At the top of the depth chart, Buckram and Frazier are legitimate long-ball hitters, who’ll go the distance if given just a crack of daylight. It’s up to the staff to put these two in situations, where they can create mismatches.
Weakness: A power game. While it’s nice to have a few shifty all-purpose backs to lean on, who gets the ball when it’s third-and-two? Yeah, Williams and Palmer make the most sense, but neither has a track record or much experience.
Outlook: Two years removed from Thomas’ last game as a Miner, the program remains on the hunt for a workhorse. A healthy Buckram and an emerging Frazier are nice places to start, but Myers is the “X” factor. If he can perform like a Pac-10-caliber player, UTEP has the ingredients of an underrated backfield.
Rating: 4.5


Receivers


Projected Starters: One quality receiver is nice, but two make it impossible to double either player. UTEP has reached that stage thanks to the sudden emergence of 6-3, 195-pound junior Kris Adams. A year after catching just five passes, he unexpectedly went berserk, catching 50 passes for 958 yards and 14 touchdowns. Those 14 scores and 19.2-yard average per catch were indications of his big-play ability and penchant for getting behind the defense.

The play of Adams made life a little easier for 6-0, 190-pound senior Jeff Moturi, who’d already gone through his breakout year. Quickly scaling the school’s all-time receiving charts, he’s caught at least 50 passes the last two years, including 51 for 655 yards and nine touchdowns in 2008. The most polished of the receivers, he has great hands, good quickness, and the passion to keep getting better as he auditions for NFL scouts.

The third man in the rotation figures to be 6-2, 195-pound senior Tufick Shadrawy at “X” receiver. Although he’s been a nice complement to the corps, he’s yet to fulfill expectations befitting such a quality athlete, catching just 20 balls for 284 yards and three touchdowns as a seven-game starter in 2008. He sat out spring with a broken hand, preventing him from working on his consistency. 

The graduation of productive tight end Jamar Hunt means 6-5, 250-pound junior Jonny Moore will be elevated into the starting hole. In his most extensive action to date, he played in nine games as a sophomore, catching nine passes for 80 yards and a touchdown. A better receiver than blocker, his production will more than double this fall.
 
Projected Top Reserves: The heir apparent to Moturi at “A” receiver is 6-1, 185-pound junior Evan Davis. He actually earned five starts a year ago, producing 19 receptions for 217 yards and a touchdown. Purely from a physical standpoint, he has the burst, size, and leaping ability to create mismatches, especially in man coverage.

After playing in a dozen games and catching eight passes for 142 yards, 6-1, 180-pound sophomore Donovon Kemp is itching for an opportunity to get more reps. While listed behind Shadrawy at “X” receiver, he had the kind of spring that positioned him for more playing time and a possible starting assignment in the fall. A smooth all-around athlete, he’s wowed the staff with his knack for making the difficult grabs.

Watch Out For… lots of space underneath. With Adams and Moturi deservedly attracting a heap of attention on the outside, the tight ends and slot guys will have ample opportunities to sit down in a vacant area and play catch with the quarterback.
Strength: The dynamic duo. Among the non-BCS schools, few can compare with the one-two punch of Adams and Moturi, who combined for 101 catches and 23 touchdowns last season. Both can stretch a defense, and continue to develop a nice rapport with QB Trevor Vittatoe.
Weakness: Overall consistency. If they’re going to build on last season, Miner receivers recognize the need to become more consistent as a group, running better routes, eliminating the drops, and becoming better blockers.
Outlook: With two all-star candidates and improving depth, UTEP has one of the best corps of receivers in Conference USA. This athletic group of pass-catcher, combined with the return of Vittatoe, gives the program its best hope for a return to the postseason.
Rating: 7


Offensive Line


Projected Starters
: The good news is that four starters return to the offensive line. The sour news? The lone defection is Robby Felix, the all-league center and four-year inspirational starter. The front-runner to succeed him is 6-4, 280-pound junior Tanner Cullumber, who lettered a year ago and earned spot starts. Versatile enough to also play guard, he spent the offseason adding more muscle and working on his snaps. One of the most important, if not the most scrutinized, cogs of the offense, he needs to be up to the challenge.

Stability can be found to the left of center. At left tackle, 6-4, 300-pound Mike Aguayo has been a starter there since the end of his true freshman season. An honorable mention All-Conference USA selection the last two years, he’s light on his feet and improving as a pass protector. If he can improve his strength and leg drive on running downs, he has a chance to continue playing past El Paso.

Over at left guard is 6-4, 320-pound senior Cameron Raschke, one of the strongest blockers on the offensive line and a third-year starter. Showing no ill-effects from ACL surgery in 2006, he’s been a rock the last two seasons, especially on straight-ahead running plays. If the Miners want to ignite the ground game, running behind No. 78 is a wise place to start.

The right tackle is slated to be 6-8, 280-pound junior Will Osolinsky, a former defensive linemen who has adapted nicely to a new side of the ball. Still somewhat rangy, with room to grow, he needs to add more muscle in order to handle the rigors of the job. A letterman each of the last two years, he better be ready for the small, speedy edge rushers he’ll face in Conference USA.

While it’s a tight race, 6-3, 315-pound junior Rod Huntley held a slight edge in the battle for the job at right guard. Coming off his first season as a regular, he’s looking to grow into a more complete blocker. A combination of tremendous power and good footwork, he has the ingredients to be an all-leaguer before he’s through.      

Projected Top Reserves: Providing competition to Huntley at right guard is 6-4, 305-pound senior Colby Meek, an experienced Miner with three letters on his resume and eight starts in 2008. While also a candidate to play some tackle, he’s better suited on the inside, where his limited foot speed is less likely to get exposed by the quicker ends.

Injuries forced 6-8, 320-pound junior Alex Solot into the starting lineup for the final five games of the year, which will further enhance the team’s depth at tackle. Although he certainly looks the part, he’ll need to smooth out the rough spots, especially in pass blocking, if he’s going to jump Osolinsky on the depth chart.

More depth at guard will be provided by gigantic junior Anthony McNac, a 6-4, 325-pound mauler. He’s trimmed his weight over the last two years, helping his conditioning and lateral movement. With two letters in the bank, he’s now a veteran with an eye on Raschke’s job in 2010.

Watch Out For… the development of 6-7, 305-pound freshman Britt Mitchell, an Oklahoma transfer. Yeah, barring injury, he’ll have a limited role in 2009, but he’s the future at left tackle for the Miners. A 6-7, 305-pounder above average pass protection skills, he could be a household name in West Texas by 2010.
Strength: Experience. Go ahead and try to find a more experienced front wall in Conference USA. The upside to last season’s spate of injuries is that it forced a bunch of backups into the lineup. In fact, eight different returners have started games at this level, a luxury few schools can boast.
Weakness: Pass protection. When you favor the pass, it’s imperative that the line gives the quarterback time. UTEP, however, has slipped in this area the last couple of years, yielding 27 sacks a season ago. The unit has to do a much better job, or else the entire offense suffers the consequences.
Outlook: Replacing Felix is next to impossible, considering his experience, but at least the Miners can insulate the new center with big, veteran interior blockers. While all of the depth is fantastic, as a group, UTEP still needs to do a better job of opening holes and protecting the pocket. 
Rating: 5.5

  

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