UTEP Football 2020 Outlook: Special Teams Overview
Editor's note: Sports are constantly evolving on a daily basis due to the COVID-19 pandemic, making a lot of the 2020 season still uncertain. This story is part seven of an offseason series preview for the Miners' upcoming season with the idea that the season takes place as scheduled.
The UTEP football special teams unit had a bit of a roller coaster of an offseason. It started off with some unfortunate news of punter Mitchell Crawford transferring to Michigan State as a graduate transfer. But then special teams coach Joe Robinson was able to dip back into the Australian football pipeline to bring in a promising punting prospect. The new addition coupled with a top-notch returning kicker like Gavin Baechle gives the unit optimism going into the upcoming season.
Let's talk about specialists:
I think head coach Dana Dimel says it best about his starting kicker:
"Gavin is the kicker for us and played for us as a true freshman. He was average for us in his true freshman year. Last year I really think he came into his own and showed how he can be a consistent performer for us. He's getting stronger, bigger all the time. I think he's going to have a great year for us. He's multifaceted—he can kick and he can punt which is a nice toolset for. Gavin is the highlight of the position."
He's right, Baechle had an okay freshman campaign. It was his sophomore campaign that started turning heads. He scored 61 points for the Miners, converting 13-of-16 field goal attempts and all 22 of his PATs. Beyond 40 yards, Baechle was 5-for-7 for UTEP which was a significant step forward for a position that has searched for consistent talent over the last three years. If Baechle can surpass what he did during his sophomore campaign, he could be in the conversation for C-USA's best kicker.
Josh Sloan, P, Fr
Let's not bury the lead here. Mitchell Crawford is a significant loss. Last year, the junior punted 61 times for 2,415 yards (39.6 avg.), with 13 landing inside the 20-yard line. The Miners needed to supplement the talent lost and the coaching staff believes they did with a younger Australian prospect in Josh Sloan. As a true freshman, he will have four years of eligibility for the Miners, which excites Dimel.
"Josh Sloan has hit our Australian connection through (special teams coordinator) Joe Robinson, who has great connection to the Australian punters and kickers," he said. "Josh Sloan is a young man that has five years. Very athletic, big guy that played Australian rules football. He showed his ability there and we got to watch film on him. He's got a huge upside and he'll be with us for a long time."
Dimel really likes what he sees in local talent Mark Ramos in his kicking unit. The Andress grad redshirted last year and will serve as Baechle's primary backup. Sloan will be backed up by a San Antonio punting prospect that the Miners got over the offseason, per Dimel.
"Mark Ramos, a local product out of Andress, is another guy that will battle Gavin for the kicking position," Dimel said. "He's got a lot of strength in his leg, is a consistent kicker, redshirted him last year and it's neat because he's another local product that we think has a chance to be really solid and really good for us moving forward. He's got a great demeanor to him and prepares really well."
Kick returner: Duron Lowe (CB)
Punt returner: Justin Garrett (WR)
Justin Garrett is rock solid. For me, punt returning is reliability. Obviously, you stop the team and force them to punt. There's nothing more demoralizing than turning the ball over. What you want from your punt returner is reliability and someone you can trust. Right now it's Justin Garrett and Jacob Cowing. Those are two guys to have back there. JG has really improved his quickness.