The Most Interesting Storylines to Follow During UTEP Spring Ball
Spring ball comes at us earlier this year than most on the Borderland, as the UTEP football squad will gear up to undergo spring practices to fine-tune themselves for next season.
They will have 15 practices scattered over the next six weeks, followed by their annual spring game on Saturday, April 13 at the Sun Bowl.
Here are some storylines to follow during spring ball:
The upgrade from year one to year two
We all witnessed year one of the Dana Dimel era, where the Miners snapped a 20-game losing streak, which dated back to 2016. Problem was, that was UTEP's only win of the season.
You could argue that it was just year one for this coaching staff; you could argue that the injuries were insurmountable; you could even argue that they continually improved each game. But the fact remains that the Miners went 1-11 last year and still haven't won a home game since 2016.
And this spring ball for UTEP will be vastly different. Last year the Miners were wide-eyed and excited to start something fresh. Each practice they seemed to have learned a new avenue of the Kansas State-style that this coaching staff instilled.
This time, they have already learned the system. They will get back pieces this spring that were hurt in the fall. They will also get some early enrollees on the team, who mostly transferred from junior colleges.
"Develop our depth" and "develop our unity," as Dimel points out the team's goals for this spring. It's refreshing.
The excitement for the team has worn off. Now, it's time to get down to business.
Kai Locksley is back, but how are his reserves?
Normally the biggest positional storyline entering spring ball for UTEP has been who will be the quarterback come fall? Kai Locksley's effort-filled junior season was enough to propel him to the team's number one starter. On two injured ankles for the better half of the season, Locksley threw for 937 yards and totaled 340 rushing yards.
He underwent two surgeries this offseason but is gradually returning to the gridiron and should be practicing this spring for the Miners, per Dimel.
So who's his backup?
The obvious choice right now is Brandon Jones, who appeared in two games for the Miners, including him starting to close out the season on Senior Day. Coaches continue to sing his praises and call him one of the smartest players on the field.
But true freshman TJ Goodwin can change everything. The 3-star Houston native took it upon himself to graduate early in December so he could fully work out with the team in the spring. There's no way Goodwin graduated early to accept a redshirt on this team right off the bat.
Goodwin wants to compete and throw his name in the mix. He has a case to do so, coming off a strong high school season with Cypress Falls and standing at 6-foot-5.
Then there's Mark Torres and Calvin Brownholtz, who have had a season to learn under Dimel and offensive coordinator Mike Canales. They will both fight for a spot as well.
Offensive line gears up to be hungry and deeper than before
One of the biggest problems of last year's team was the piled up amount of bodies they had injured. Most of those significant injuries happened to the offensive line. It started by losing their leader in center Derron Gatewood before the season started, but it was also followed by a revolving door of injured linemen.
This spring, the Miners will get healthier than ever before, with Dimel's ultimate goal being to make each position on the line two-men deep. That way, barring injuries to their line, the Miners will be deep and prepared.
Be excited about sophomore Zuri Henry, who is coming off a huge freshman season. He anchored the team on the offensive line and proved to be one of the most consistent players UTEP had up front.
JUCO transfer fever
Along with Goodwin joining the team this spring, there will be a plethora of talent making their way on the team this spring. The eight early enrollees include defensive back Miles Banks, tight end Rashad Beecham, defensive back Robert Corner III, safety Ty’reke James, tight end Luke Laufenberg, defensive back Duron Lowe, linebacker Joe Jay Smith and Goodwin.
This is extremely beneficial for the Miners to add immediate talent to their roster, with a heavy emphasis on defense. Specifically in the defensive backfield, the Miners will have four new players joining the mix to try and fight for a spot on defense.
Dimel raves about his two tight end signings with Laufenberg and Beecham because of how much the tight end is utilized in this system. After David Lucero graduated last fall and Josh Weeks decided to transfer for his final year of eligibility, this offseason is imperative to integrate these two new additions to the tight end position.
Dimel has also left the door open to signing more junior college players or grabbing graduate transfers during this offseason.