UTEP Football Depth Chart Outlook: Evaluating the Quarterbacks
Entering week five, the Miners have not been plagued by the injury bug like last year and their starters have relatively remained the same.
Injury reports looked more like full-blown rosters last year, while this season features a lot more consistency with their healthy starters.
An injury update that head coach Dana Dimel brought up this week was junior cornerback Josh Caldwell, who sat out this past Saturday against Nevada. Dimel expects Caldwell back in the mix at corner this week.
But instead of evaluating position-by-position, let's take an in-depth look at the quarterback depth chart for obvious reasons.
Senior Brandon Jones entered the season as the team's starting quarterback. He is praised for his leadership skills and has thrown some nice balls this year so far. Jones completed 22-of-43 (51.2 percent) passes this year for 395 yards, a touchdown pass and a pair of interceptions under his belt. Not the numbers that will 'wow' you, but also not particularly bad stats.
Alongside Jones is senior Kai Locksley, who has made appearances in back-to-back games for the Miners under their dual quarterback system. Locksley is the team's spark plug off the bench that completed 5-of-13 passes for 43 yards off the bench with a pair of interceptions thrown and a rushing touchdown.
Jones went 8-of-11 for 106 passing yards and an interception on Saturday before exiting with a shoulder injury, while Locksley went just 2-of-6 through the air for 10 yards and threw a pair of interceptions as well.
The bottom line with both quarterbacks is the production level has been a lot lower than what the program needs. Dimel expressed some frustration in the quarterback play following the 37-21 loss to Nevada but upon watching the game film, Jones stood out to Dimel as the clear starter leading into Southern Miss.
“After I got to evaluate it and think about it more, he was in on a good bit of those drives, and his overall performance was what he needs to do to help us win football games. That is what we talked about before is just execute our offense. I felt like he did a good job and made some really good throws on some vertical schemes on the one that got called back for the penalty on the third-and-five conversion on the first drive. Overall, I thought Brandon played a good game. I thought Kai (Locksley) made mistakes, but Kai also was electric in running the football, so we have to get Kai to eliminate the mistakes because his athleticism shows up in games as well.” - Dana Dimel at Monday's press conference
Assuming both quarterbacks still get thrown in the game under the dual-quarterback system, Jones will likely continue to be the team's starter and Locksley will be plugged in wherever Dimel sees fit. What happens if the quarterback production continues to be stagnant? If the lack of performance by the quarterbacks continues in the Southern Miss game, could UTEP turn elsewhere for their homecoming game against UTSA on Oct. 5?
Short answer, definitely.
Sophomore third-string quarterback Gavin Hardison is known for having a rocket arm around practice and his name was recently tossed in the UTEP football presser on Monday.
"I won't lie that it did cross my mind this past weekend to start processing where we are with Gavin and how we want to accelerate that process," Dimel said. "He's picking up [the playbook] each and every day."
Dimel even brought up freshman quarterback TJ Goodwin, saying that he wants the Cypress Falls gunslinger to get more reps in practice because he likes his talents as well.
With both Hardison and Goodwin, there's also the four-game redshirt possibility. Either of them could theoretically appear in four games through the season and still not burn their redshirt.
If this is already how Dimel feels about Hardison when he's been with the team for just under two months, it means his abilities have made a significant impression at practice. This is impressive for the 6-foot-3 quarterback out of Hobb, N.M., even for a high school quarterback that threw for over 4,000 yards.
Or, it could be a sign of desperation by the coaching staff to try and improve the quarterback position sooner rather than later.
The current quarterback situation really shouldn't get to this point unless they lose to UTSA, which is one of the worst teams in C-USA and whose struggles are far worse than the Miners right now. No need to hit the panic button yet.
Though, all the quarterbacks will have a close eye on them through the next few weeks.