Editor’s note: Remember substituting SparkNotes with assigned reading back in high school? That’s an analogy of my experience covering the first UTEP football spring scrimmage today. Per the normal routine for this new regime, practices are closed to the media. Scotty Walden told us this during his spring ball preview appearance on 600 ESPN El Paso and I respect the decision. During the open session, members of the media have the opportunity to watch individual drills. Once the team gets into practice—or in Friday’s case, the first scrimmage—the field becomes closed to everyone outside the program. So, after practice today, we caught up with players and coaches to gather the notes for the first scrimmage in the Scotty Walden era. The Spring Game (April 20th) is right around the corner and fans are encouraged to purchase the $5 tickets for the game. Let’s dive into what we know!

1. The Good: Energy; The Work-in-Progress: Execution

The team is understandably feeling the excitement during the first two weeks of spring ball, but the execution is something that will take time, according to head coach Scotty Walden.

“I loved our competitors, I loved our energy… The execution is what we have to work on. The first time live bullets are flying with our scheme. We gotta protect the football better on offense. Defensively, we did a phenomenal job of getting the football back.”

One of the bright spots of the defense was returning linebacker Nate Dyman, who redshirted last season after only appearing in four games for the Miners in 2023. He recorded an interception in today's scrimmage and stood out to the coaching staff.

Another name that is having a productive spring is defensive lineman Bryton Thompson, who also underwent a redshirt season in 2023. The senior had 3.5 sacks in 2022, including 14 total tackles for the Miners.

"Bryton's ball get-off is the best I've seen in a long time," Walden said.

2. Quarterback Battle Outlook

Turnovers headlined the discussion around quarterbacks after the first scrimmage for UTEP on Friday. The race appears to be a two-man battle between redshirt junior Cade McConnell and redshirt sophomore Skyler Locklear.

Locklear appears to be taking the No. 1 reps in spring ball thus far. He joined the coaching staff in the move from Austin Peay to UTEP. He appeared in four games over two seasons at APSU. At the high school level out of Clayton (N.C.) Cleveland HS, Locklear threw for 7,063 passing yards and totaled 78 touchdowns.

McConnell started the last six games for the Miners in 2023, throwing for 1,437 passing yards and totaling six touchdowns to four interceptions. The team had two of its three wins with McConnell as quarterback.

Walden didn't mince words when talking about the quarterbacks afterward.

"I thought all those guys responded really well, but we cannot be that careless with the football. That's my biggest takeaway with the quarterbacks. I was very disappointed in the way they handled the football today," Walden said. "We're going to get that cleaned up. Overall, when I watch them in the pocket, when I watch them in the plays... I want to see their eyes in the right spot. I thought that was overall good today."

Locklear will lean on the familiarity he has with the offensive playbook to help him move forward in the quarterback battle.

"I definitely have some comfortability because I've been in it for a couple of years but I think what we were brought here to do is help the 70 others that don't know it. Help them learn it so it's not just the coaches. So people that have been in it and played in it can help the other players around us."

Senior transfer wideout Trey Goodman, who joins UTEP after racking up 721 receiving yards and seven touchdowns at Austin Peay last year, met with the media and spoke highly of the quarterback competition.

"I was on the field today with all the quarterbacks today. Skyler performed well today. We were pushing the tempo. Then I go with Cade and I don't feel there's a drop-off. There's a lot of healthy competition going on between them. They're both really good quarterbacks and they performed really well."

3. Running Back Jevon Jackson Dazzles in Scrimmage 

One of the Austin Peay transfers has been impressing coaches among the running back group, which is divided between true running backs and hybrid receivers/tailbacks. Incoming junior Jevon Jackson had an impressive outing in the inaugural scrimmage of spring ball for the Miners.

"Jevon Jackson ran the ball really (physically)," Walden said. "I like the grit that he showed. We fed the ball to him multiple times in a row... I was really proud of the way he ran the football today."

Jackson joins the Miners after totaling 1,373 yards on 252 carries and 10 touchdowns in 2023.

The running back room is looking for a staple to replace the top two leading rushers from 2023 in Deion Hankins and Torrance Burgess Jr. Jackson appears to be making positive strides in a running back room that includes returning players like Ezell Jolly and Mike Franklin.

4. Otis Pitts III Looks to Be a Staple on the Offensive Line 

One of the other names highlighted today was returning offensive lineman Otis Pitts III. There's a reason the 6-foot-3, 345-pound lineman from Cisco College played all 12 games for the Miners in 2023.

Last season, Pitts III started the season by coming in relief for guys up front, but he quickly became a starter for the team and flexed his versatility up front.

"I thought Otis Pitts was physical up front," Walden said about the big man when talking about stand-out players during the first scrimmage.

Other returning offensive linemen with playing experience from last season include Joseph Immediato, Jaquan Toney, Azizi Henry and Aluma Nkele.

5. Lots of Area Coaches Showed Out; Big Recruiting Weekend Ahead for UTEP 

A solid group of coaches, both locally and across the state, showed up to the first scrimmage on Friday, along with several recruits that the staff will be hosting on official visits this weekend.

Local schools like Coronado and Eastlake showed up on Friday, along with schools across Texas like Odessa Permian, Ray Braswell (Little Elm, TX), Abilene High and Midland Greenwood High.

There were plenty of other prospects that announced their offer by UTEP this week, including wide receiver Marcus Mozer (class of 2025, Fossil Ridge HS), left tackle Dantay Ward Jr. (class of 2024, Waco) and defensive back Juan-Milleon Aguilar (class of 2025, Kimball HS).

The coaching staff will continue to host prospective players on official visits over the weekend, including some potential grad transfers. Ball State running back transfer Marquez Cooper, who has three straight 1,000-plus rushing seasons under his belt, announced that he is on his official visit via social media.


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