Is This the Week Where We Get Quarterback Clarity for UTEP?
After Camp Ruidoso, head coach Dana Dimel and the UTEP football team came up with the consensus that the quarterback playing time would be split between Kai Locksley and Ryan Metz.
But both contenders for the starting job obviously can’t take the first snap of the game against Northern Arizona next Saturday for the Miners’ season opener.
That means by this week, or by next week, Dimel and offensive coordinator Mike Canales have to decide which quarterback will get the first snaps next Saturday, regardless if the team decides to play more than one quarterback at a time.
It’s common sense.
The question now is, who gets the first call next Saturday? Both Locklsey and Metz had solid spring seasons, which poured over into a strong summer for both guys. The two had to be integrated in the new offense under Dimel and had to learn the playbook front to back. They had to work countless hours for the starting job that they may or may not get, all for it to boil down to one, maybe two weeks of a final evaluation.
Ryan Metz - The Senior Wanting a Chance
It’s hard to believe Ryan Metz is entering his final season with the Miners after all this time. Each offseason he’s competed for the starting job, which must be mentally and physically draining to do year after year. He also has Division I experience as the signal caller.
While Metz couldn’t move mountains in last season’s 0-12 finish, he was ready for the challenge this offseason and used the new coaching staff to better his talents. At first glance during Camp Ruidoso, it was evident that Metz took some significant steps forward. He improved on his timing of his release as well as the speed of his throws. He knows the team and offense just about better than anyone.
If named starter, we could probably expect to see a lot of quick outs or slant passes by Metz, as it has been historically. While he likes the deep ball at times, he only throws it when he’s sure of the pass. Metz would probably utilize receivers like Warren Redix, Justin Garrett and Terry Juniel to the highest potential, among others, since those receivers have the qualities Metz prefers in his wideouts: fast and quick on out routes.
Kai Locksley - The Shiny Newcomer
Let me preface this by saying “newcomer” is only a factual title for Locksley, but let it be known that when he steps on the field, Locksley commands the offense like a seasoned veteran. Locksley has yet to throw a pass in a Division I game, but his ceiling is higher than about anyone on the team.
Beyond his father being Mike Locksley, the offensive coordinator for Alabama, and being a four-star recruit out of Maryland, Locksley made a name for himself in the JUCO ranks, which he wants to translate to UTEP. He was named 2017 NJCAA Offensive Player of the Year for 20 passing touchdowns and 20 rushing touchdowns for Iowa Western.
When you see Locksley on the field, you’ll see a player unlike anything UTEP’s seen. His 6-foot-4 frame gives him the height for the position, but his elusive speed and dual-threat ability is what makes him stand out from the rest. He’s developed a strong connection with receivers like Redix, Kavika Johnson, David Lucero and Walter Dawn Jr. Locksley has the potential to make highlight reel plays for the Miners this season, if he's chosen as the starter.
Understanding the New Offense with the Quarterbacks
UTEP’s summer camp showed that thus far, the Miners’ offense is completely different than last year. In 2017, you could expect an under center formation about 70 percent of the time. Now it’s shotgun formation almost 95 percent of every snap.
And more shotgun formation works for the Miners. It allows them to spread the field and utilize misdirection almost every play; or, like the team reiterates, each play can have multiple options for every down. Misdirection worked for Kansas State and as the teams in Conference USA start to evolve offenses to spread looks, the Miners have joined the movement as well.
Dimel and Canales’ offense is smooth and fun to watch. They run a lot, which is nothing new to the program. They mostly run from the shotgun, using zone reads and read options through numerous packages. In a run-first system, which asks the quarterback to run at times, Locksley would likely prevail as the most suitable quarterback for an offense. If the run-first motive isn't what the Miners are planning for, Metz might find his way into the gunslinger role.
So for now, Miner fans can wait and count down the days to see who will take the starting snaps for UTEP against NAU and how they fare in their first game.