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2007 UTEP Preview

Discussion in 'All Other Sports' started by BoltsFanUK, Aug 8, 2007.

  1. BoltsFanUK
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    BoltsFanUK Well-Known Member

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    After three late season collapses (or chokes, if you prefer) in a row, has Mike Price taken the Miners as far as they can go?

    He was a magician in his first season, coaxing eight wins and a bowl berth from a team that won just two games a year earlier, but then UTEP quickly turned into one of the league’s biggest underachievers. Last year’s squad was built for a Conference USA championship, but instead finished a disappointing 5-7. According to Price, the status quo will no longer cut it in El Paso. While that’s a great attitude to have, his team was gutted by graduation losses, so the task is challenging.

    Head coach: Mike Price
    4th year: 21-15
    26th year overall: 150-137
    Returning Lettermen:
    Off. 20, Def. 18, ST 0
    Lettermen Lost: 26
    Ten Best Miner Players
    1. FS Quintin Demps, Sr.
    2. RB Marcus Thomas, Sr.
    3. LB Jeremy Jones, Sr.
    4. C Robby Felix, Jr.
    5. OT Tyler Ribitzki, Jr.
    6. WR Joe West, Sr.
    7. CB Josh Ferguson, Sr.
    8. WR Fred Rouse, Soph.
    9. SS Braxton Amy, Soph.
    10. WR/QB Lorne Sam, Sr.
    2007 Schedule
    CFN Prediction: 5-7

    Sept. 1
    New Mexico

    Sept. 8
    at Texas Tech

    Sept. 15
    at New Mexico St

    Sept. 22
    Texas Southern

    Sept. 29
    at SMU

    Oct. 6
    Tulsa

    Oct. 13
    East Carolina

    Oct. 27
    Houston

    Nov. 3
    at Rice

    Nov. 10
    at Tulane

    Nov. 17
    Southern Miss

    Nov. 24
    at UCF


    2006 Schedule
    2006 Record: 5-7

    8/31 at San Diego St W 34-27
    9/9 Texas Tech L 38-35 OT
    9/23 at New Mexico L 26-13
    9/30 New Mexico St W 44-38
    10/7 SMU W 24-21
    10/14 Tulane W 34-20
    10/21 at Houston L 34-17
    10/27 at Tulsa L 30-20
    11/4 Rice L 37-31
    11/10 at UAB W 36-17
    11/18 at Marshall L 49-21
    11/25 Memphis L 38-19

    In an attempt to stimulate the program, Price put it through a mini-makeover, reshuffling the staff, tweaking the way it recruits and completely changing the practice routine. It might help, but then again, it’s not going to matter much if last year’s backups aren’t ready to slide into the lineup, or if some of this year’s 29 new recruits can’t soften the blow of losing 27 seniors.

    Heading the list of departures is the entire defensive line and the prolific pitch-and-catch combo of Jordan Palmer to Johnnie Lee Higgins, which connected for 32 touchdown passes over the last three seasons. Palmer made way too many bad decisions in his career, but he had a big arm and enough knowledge of the offense to keep churning out points. The six contenders to succeed the school’s all-time leading passer have completed just seven passes between them.

    Three years ago, Price took Gary Nord’s players and promptly whipped them into winners. Now he has to do it with his own recruits, or lose more traction.

    What to watch on offense …For the Miners’ one-back offense to succeed, it must have a reliable hurler, making the race to supplant Palmer critical and super tight. No fewer than five contenders exited spring with a shot at winning the job, although redshirt freshman Trevor Vittatoe and versatile senior Lorne Sam appeared to distinguish themselves in April. Whether or not he wins the job, Sam, a Florida State transfer who’s also listed as a first-team receiver, will fit in somewhere this year. Before injuring his knee in 2006, he was a huge hit running the zone draw.

    What to watch on defense …UTEP lost eight starters from a group that was 104th nationally in total defense a year ago, so it’s major rebuilding time in El Paso this fall. The Miners are counting on six junior college transfers to provide immediate help, especially on a depleted line that’s going to be powerless against opposing ground games. The one nugget of good news is the return of linebacker Jeremy Jones, the Miners’ best defender before breaking his leg last September.

    The team will be far better if …the offensive line makes massive strides from last season. Palmer took way too many hits and a couple of capable backs, Marcus Thomas and Donald Buckram, saw zero daylight. If the Miners are to get back to the postseason, they’ll have to win a lot of shootouts, but that won’t be possible if the young line hasn’t learned from last year’s apprenticeship.

    The Schedule: UTEP will get its fill of the southwest, facing New Mexico, Texas Tech, New Mexico State and Texas Southern before dealing with Conference USA play. If nothing else, the games against the Red Raiders and Aggies should be some of the wildest shootouts of the year. While the Miners play four of the league's best teams (Tulsa, East Carolina, Houston and Southern Miss), they get them all at home. Three of the final four games are on the road.

    Best Offensive Player: Senior RB Marcus Thomas. Expected to explode onto the scene when he arrived in El Paso, the former Parade All-American has been merely average, finding little room to run and being under utilized in the Miner passing offense. Now he needs to be the key cog in the offense, providing the speed and power to be the focal point of both the running game and the short passing attack.

    Best Defensive Player: Senior FS Quintin Demps. The league’s best ball-hawk, Demps made seven interceptions last season to go along with five broken up passes. The team’s leader in the secondary since an all-star freshman season, he should be a lock for the All-Conference USA team if he uses his experience to make even more big plays.

    Key player to a successful season: The starting quarterback. Whether it turns out to be Lorne Sam, Brandis Dew, James Thomas II, Trevor Vittatoe or Kyle Wright, someone will have to match the production of Jordan Palmer. Vittatoe is probably a year away, Wright has a little bit of experience, Sam can play receiver and has the best all-around skills, Thomas is great on the move, and Dew, who’s coming back from a shoulder injury, has all the talent to be a star if he can stay healthy.

    The season will be a success if ... the Miners get back to a bowl game. The schedule is a bit difficult and just enough key spots remain unsettled for UTEP to win the West, but there’s no reason they can’t go bowling for the third time in four years. Not crashing and burning late in the year would be nice.

    http://cfn.scout.com/2/661322.html
  2. BoltsFanUK
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    BoltsFanUK Well-Known Member

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    UTEP Miners

    Preview 2007 - Miner Offense



    What you need to know: The offense continued to be one-sided finishing fifth in the nation in passing and 116th in rushing, and now things will make a shift back the other way, although not necessarily for the positive. A battle for the quarterback job will continue until the fall, but the running game should be set with Marcus Thomas ready to break out as one of Conference USA's best backs. However, he needs room to move behind a line that has to be night-and-day better than last year when it struggled to pound away.

    Returning Leaders
    Passing: Kyle Wright
    6-9, 91 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
    Rushing: Marcus Thomas
    156 carries, 513 yds, 5 TD
    Receiving: Marcus Thomas
    39 catches, 242 yds, 1 TD

    Star of the offense: Senior RB Marcus Thomas
    Player that has to step up and become a star: Any of the five quarterback options
    Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore OT Mike Aguayo
    Best pro prospect: Sophomore WR Fred Rouse
    Top three all-star candidates: 1) Thomas, 2) C Robby Felix, 3) OT Tyler Ribitzki
    Strength of the offense: Deep backfield, options at receiver and quarterback
    Weakness of the offense: Proven quarterback, offensive line

    Quarterbacks

    Projected Starter: The contest to replace all-time leading passer Jordan Palmer has an American Idol feel with nearly as many eager participants. No fewer than five Miner quarterbacks got reps during the spring in a wide-open audition that won’t have a winner until sometime in August. It’s an eclectic bunch that features youth and upperclassmen, pocket passers and dual-threats. If there was a pecking order established in April, Mike Price wasn’t letting on what it looked like. One thing that became increasingly obvious was that the coach loves the future of redshirt freshman Trevor Vittatoe who’s helped himself more than anyone in the off-season. A confident kid that’s picked up the offense quickly, he has a strong arm and the quick feet to escape pressure. If he can continue building on a strong year with the scout team, he’ll be handed the keys to the offense in time for the opener with New Mexico.

    Vittatoe’s stiffest competition is likely to come from senior Lorne Sam and sophomore Brandis Dew, a couple of polar opposites behind center. A former Florida State transfer, Sam might be the team’s best all-around athlete. At 6-3 and 215 pounds, he was a dangerous weapon running the zone draw last fall, however, his passing skills are still somewhat raw. Purely in terms of size and arm strength, Dew is the second coming of JaMarcus Russell, but he’s been dogged by shoulder problems for years and needs to prove that the rifle is fully operational.

    Projected Top Reserves: If Sam doesn’t win the quarterback job, he’ll move over to wide receiver where he’ll start. The battle for the No. 2 spot will include sophomores Kyle Wright and James Thomas. A former walk-on at the school, Wright plays with a lot of intensity and confidence, despite being only 6-1 and 195 pounds and not possessing a cannon. Just 5-11 and 190 pounds, Thomas is very dangerous on the move, making him a strong candidate to relocate to one of the skill positions if he winds up being buried on the depth chart.

    Watch Out For ... Vittatoe to do for UTEP what Justin Willis did for SMU as a freshman in 2006. He’s got the composure and magnetic personality coaches look for in a quarterback which is why the Miners are quietly hoping he’ll pull away and evolve into one of the offensive leaders.
    Strength: Versatility. UTEP has a couple of pocket passers in Vittatoe and Dew and athletes, such as Sam and Thomas, that are capable of taking direct snaps and slicing through a defense. There may be no Palmer, but there is a nice mix of talent which the staff will use to keep defenses off balance.
    Weakness: Experience. Five Miner quarterbacks have thrown just a handful of career passes between them. Palmer was such a fixture the last four years, the program failed to get any relevant snaps for one of the backups which could backfire in 2007.
    Outlook: Although you don’t get better by losing a four-year starter, UTEP still feels pretty good about its situation at quarterback. It might even be an exciting year for Miner fans if a quarterback of the future emerges from the masses.
    Rating: 6

    Running Backs

    Projected Starters: Breaking in a new starting quarterback has the Miners thinking they’ll depend a little bit more on the run than in recent years. They’ve got a nice stable of backs to lean on, but can the offensive line cooperate and open more holes? UTEP was 116th nationally in rushing a year ago, largely because of an interior that just wasn’t physical enough on running plays. Back for his third year as a starter, Marcus Thomas has the ideal blend of size, speed and soft hands to explode in his senior, but only if he’s not absorbing first contact shortly after taking a handoff. In 2006, the 6-1, 215-pound sprinter averaged just 3.3 yards a carry and 6.2 yards on 39 receptions, far below his potential as a feature back.

    Projected Top Reserves: Providing support and breathers to Thomas will be sophomore Donald Buckram and junior Terrell Jackson. One of the prizes of the 2006 recruiting class, Buckram provides a complimentary burst of speed in a 5-10, 180-pound frame. Also a member of the Miner track team, he ditched a redshirt last year, displaying his open field explosiveness on an 80-yard touchdown on a screen pass versus UAB.

    Jackson is an Oregon transfer that’s drawing comparisons to Tyler Ebell, another Pac-10 import that revived his career in El Paso. While only 5-9 and 195 pounds, the former Prep All-America and premier recruit runs with surprising power and reads the hole instinctively well.

    Watch Out For…: a more even distribution of carries this season. Thomas is still the main man in the running game, but Buckram and Jackson are just too talented to be relegated to mop-up duty late in one-sided games.
    Strength: Depth. This year’s Miner offense has three backs capable of carrying the load, a significant improvement in depth and quality compared to the last two seasons.
    Weakness: Big-play ability. It sure wasn’t all the backs’ fault, but UTEP’s longest run from scrimmage last year was just 42 yards…and that came from quarterback Jordan Palmer. The Miners need to hit an occasional homerun in 2007 which is where Buckram and Jackson enter the business plan.
    Outlook: For the first time in a long time, the backs have a chance to be the stars of this program. While Thomas has 1,000-yard potential between the tackles, Buckram and Jackson will make plays in space as runners and pass-catchers.
    Rating: 6.5

    Receivers

    Projected Starters: Although three of last year’s top pass-catchers have graduated, including all-time great Johnnie Lee Higgins, there’s still a lot to like about the next wave of Miner receivers. A nice complement to Higgins last year, senior Joe West must now evolve into the program’s go-to guy for whichever quarterback is behind center. A physical, 6-2 and 210-pound receiver, he hauled in 27 balls in 2006 for 496 yards, three scores and a whopping average of more than 18 yards a catch.

    West will be joined by sophomore Jeff Moturi who blew up this spring to solidify a spot in the starting lineup. A lightning quick athlete that catches everything near him, he’ll help soften the blow of losing last year’s No. 2 receiver, Daniel Robinson.

    If senior Lorne Sam doesn’t get the nod at quarterback, he’ll instantly become the third starter as an outside receiver, a testament to his overall athletic skill set. At 6-3 and 215 pounds, with great leaping ability, he’ll give fits to opposing defensive backs provided he’s allowed to develop his route running and ball skills at the position.

    The return of senior Jake Sears helps give UTEP one of the league’s best collections of tight ends. At 6-3 and 255 pounds, he’s a capable blocker at the point of attack who also pitched in with 17 catches for 173 yards and a pair of touchdowns last season.

    Projected Top Reserves: Two years ago, every major school from USC to Florida State wanted Fred Rouse. Today, he’s a UTEP Miner with three years of eligibility remaining. Yes, there were transgressions that got him exiled from Tallahassee, but the pure talent is well beyond what they’re used to in El Paso. If Mike Price and his staff can extract all of the boundless ability out of this 6-3 dynamo with 4.4 speed, they could have a poor man’s Randy Moss and one of the recruiting steals of the century.

    Sophomore Tufick Shadrawy has the quickness and straight-ahead jets to give the offense a vertical dimension from the second unit. Primarily a special teams player as a freshman, his role in the offense will increase markedly in 2007.

    The other half of the Miner tight end tandem is junior Jamar Hunt, the better pass catcher of the two. At an imposing 6-7 and 250 pounds, he’s caught 48 passes the last two years, showing a knack for making tough grabs in traffic.

    Watch Out For…: more production from the tight ends as the young receivers develop within the offense. Mike Price likes to use his big guys in the passing game, and has three, including redshirt freshman Jonny Moore, that can perform like oversized wideouts.
    Strength: Athleticism. From top to bottom, there’s not a possession receiver on this UTEP roster. They’re all big, run well and can sky above defensive backs to pluck the ball out of the air.

    http://cfn.scout.com/2/661323.html
  3. BoltsFanUK
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    BoltsFanUK Well-Known Member

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    2007 UTEP Preview - Defense

    What you need to know: The Miners melted down over the second half of last season and needs to be far more productive with nine starters returning. Don't expect miracles, but unlike previous years, the D should be better as the season goes on. The defense was miserable last season despite getting a consistent pass rush from the front seven. Now the whole line needs to find replacements while the linebacking corps has to hope for Jeremy Jones to be healthy after a knee injury. The secondary should be a strength after a rough year with safeties Quintin Demps and Braxton Amy potential all-stars, while Josh Ferguson is a solid corner.

    Returning Leaders
    Tackles: Quintin Demps, 67
    Sacks: Jeremy Jones, 1
    Interceptions: Quintin Demps, Joe Fleskoski, 3

    Star of the defense: Senior FS Quintin Demps
    Player that has to step up and become a star: Sophomore DE Dane O'Neill
    Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore SS Braxton Amy
    Best pro prospect: Demps
    Top three all-star candidates: 1) Demps, 2) LB Jeremy Jones, 3) CB Josh Ferguson
    Strength of the defense: Safety
    Weakness of the defense: Defensive line

    Defensive Line

    Projected Starters: After enjoying stability and continuity for the last three years, the UTEP defensive line will be enduring an extreme makeover in 2007 as four starters will be replaced. The Miners were 87th nationally against the run last year. How will they fare with a roster that includes seven of 11 linemen that have never played a Division I game? A lot depends on how quickly three junior college transfers will adapt to the speed of the game. The veteran of the group is junior James Olalekan who’s played a fair amount of football in El Paso and is ready to be the unit’s leader. He’s played in 23 games the last two years, making him, far and away, the program’s most experienced lineman. Olalekan will be joined on the inside by sophomore Steve Riddick, a 5-11, 280-pound bowling ball that’ll use his leverage this fall to get penetration. A part-time player in 2006, he secured the right tackle job with his motor and disruptive play throughout the spring. For the time being, sophomore Dane O’Neill and redshirt freshman Robert Soleyjacks are the starting ends, but both will be vulnerable to any teammate that can pressure the quarterback. Built like an outside linebacker, O’Neill will use his speed and quick first step to try and ignite the Miner pass rush. A former running back in high school, Soleyjacks is a bigger end option at 255 pounds with the athleticism to develop into a playmaker.

    Projected Top Reserves: Because there are so many newcomers here, hope resides on the second unit. JUCO transfer Charles Ofili, JaBoy Leomiti and Jason Boyce were all recruited with the express intent of playing right away and bolstering a line that was ravaged by graduations. Quicker than he is fast, Ofili had 28 tackles and four sacks as New Mexico Military Institute’s top run-stuffing tackle in 2006. Leomiti is a smaller, faster tackle who mostly played on the outside for Fullerton College and looked ready for a promotion in April. A two-year starter at Mt. San Jacinto (Calif.) Community College, Boyce needs to show that last year’s 17 quarterback pressures, eight sacks and three forced fumbles were not just a product of his competition. The opportunity is there to win a starting job, or at least be the first end off the bench.
    Watch Out For… at least one of the junior college transfers to break into the starting at some point during the year. The trio of linemen were not recruited to stand on the sidelines, and the current starters have hardly padlocked their spots on the depth chart.
    Strength: 2008. Although, it’s a reach finding a strength on this unit, it should be a whole lot more competitive next fall. There’s not a senior in the mix, and the JUCOs and redshirt freshmen, such as Will Osolinsky and Elijah Goldtrap, will benefit tremendously from a year of work.
    Weakness: Talent. It’s sort of obvious, but this group is young, undersized and lacking proven players that can collapse a pocket or consistently clog up one of the running lanes.
    Outlook: While it won’t surprise if one player steps up and has a borderline all-league year, that won’t be nearly enough to help a line that’s woefully short-handed for 2007. UTEP opponents will get little resistance running on the Miners or controlling the line of scrimmage.
    Rating: 4.5

    Linebackers

    Projected Starters: The sting of losing leading tackler Troy Collavo to graduation is lessened by the return of senior Jeremy Jones, a Butkus Award candidate before breaking his leg last September. A highly instinctive defender from the weakside, he rose to prominence in 2005 with 130 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss and four forced fumbles. The leader of this defense, Jones might also lead the nation in tackles considering how little help he’s going to get from the revamped defensive line. UTEP’s penchant for attracting quality players from the Pac-10 continues in the form of new middle linebacker Adam Vincent. When we last saw the junior, he was collecting six solo tackles in the Insight Bowl as a member of Arizona State. A nice sized player at 6-3 and 245 pounds, Vincent will pay dividends right away in a less competitive conference. Although he plays on the strongside, senior Emeri Spence is the fastest of the Miner linebackers. At 6-0 and 225 pounds, he’s a hard-hitting converted safety who was sixth on the team last year with 58 tackles and five behind the line of scrimmage.

    Projected Top Reserves: Behind Jones at weakside will be Torrey Huckaby, another JUCO transfer who’s pining to make the most of his only year of eligibility with the Miners. A terrific athlete coming off a fine spring, he’ll be used off the edge when UTEP looks to blitz the quarterback. In the middle, sophomore Brian Wilkins is the team’s most experienced reserve. As a freshman, he played in all 12 games, picking up 15 tackles, and will push for a starting job if Vincent disappoints.

    Watch Out For… a smooth rebound from Jones after missing ten games in 2006. He’s healthy, motivated and poised for a monumental final season as the main man cleaning up messes on a rebuilt Miner D.
    Strength: Tackling. With Jones as the catalyst and Vincent ready to follow his example, the Miners aren’t going to miss many tackle opportunities that get past the first line of defense.
    Weakness: Speed. Spence has good straight line speed, but this is not a collection of blazers which could cause match up problems when it’s forced to defend in pass coverage.
    Outlook: If, as expected, Vincent quickly assimilates to his new surroundings, this group has the potential to be the most prolific on either side of the ball. The key will be to stay healthy because there’s a considerable drop-off on the B team.
    Rating: 6

    Secondary

    Projected Starters: The Miners were 106th in the country in pass defense last year so losing three players with starting experience may not hurt that bad. One player that is back, however, is senior free safety Quintin Demps, an All-America candidate and one of the best kept defensive secrets outside the major conferences. A terrific playmaker that reads quarterbacks extremely well, he had 67 tackles in 2006 and led Conference USA with seven interceptions. Demps will be joined in the secondary by sophomore Braxton Amy, who’s returning to his familiar strong safety spot after earning Freshman All-America honors last year playing weakside linebacker. A vicious hitter in run support, he now needs to prove he can cover receivers equally well. Manning the corners will be a couple of seniors, Josh Ferguson and Tim McCullough. Undersized at 5-9 and 180 pounds, Ferguson isn’t afraid to support in run defense and will be entering his third season as a starter. McCullough is a little bigger and a little stronger after red shirting last season. As a junior in 2005, the ball hawk played in 12 games, predominantly on special teams.

    Projected Top Reserves: McCullough is going to be pushed hard at one corner by sophomore Cornelius Brown who impressed as a true freshman, playing in 12 games and leading the team with three fumble recoveries. Like Brown, Melvin Stephenson lettered as a true freshman and will challenge for more playing time when practice resumes this summer. After doing all of his work on special teams in 2006, he’ll play a much more prominent role in the secondary in 2007. Sophomore strong safety Da’Mon Cromartie-Smith is a big hitter at 6-2 and 205 pounds who collected 21 tackles in his first action with the Miners. A lot is expected of junior free safety Roddray Walker, a coveted transfer from New Mexico Military Institute. He’s a 6-1, 210-pound thumper with the ball skills of a seasoned cornerback.

    Watch Out For… more ugly defensive statistics, even if the secondary makes collective strides in 2007. Without any help from the pass rush, this group will get picked apart by some of the league’s better downfield passers.
    Strength: Ball skills. Led by Demps, the Miner secondary does a great job of getting to the ball, tipping it in the air and pulling it down like a receiver for a turnover.
    Weakness: Pass coverage. Regardless of how much support they get, it’s no accident when a defense allows 18 touchdown passes and more than 240 yards a game through the air. If nothing else, the Miners must limit the number of long balls it gives up in 2007 for the rest of the defense to stand a chance.
    Outlook: Demps is a star, but the rest of his defensive mates won’t hold up well in the face of constant pressure and quarterbacks that routinely have five or six seconds to locate an open man.
    Rating: 5


    http://cfn.scout.com/2/661324.html
  4. HollywoodLeo
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    HollywoodLeo Trevor Phillips Enterprises

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    Not trying to sound like an *** but is there a chance we can get all these college preview threads consolidated into one?

    They've pushed all the baseball threads to page 3 or 4.

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