Sean Kugler's first season in El Paso didn't go as planned. Unless the plan was to take a series of epic beatings and go 2-10. If that were the case, things went exactly as planned but we'll need a better plan for 2014. Back to the drawing board for the Miners, and summer school for the rest of us.
Questions that need answering...
What's your identity?
Sean Kugler arrived at UTEP promising to bring a physical identity with him. The makeover yielded poor results last season. Heading into the offseason Kugler has focused on putting mass on his offensive linemen. His charges have added on average 10 pounds per man in the off-season. All of this is done to create pushers. Man movers.
The Miners ranked 114th in opportunity rate. Translated that means that the offensive line didn't create movement against the opposing defensive front. Kugler has moved his guards out to tackle and replaced them with bigger maulers in order get more of a "push."
As a coach inheriting a program like UTEP's when you're Kugler you're faced with a dilemma: you're changing the identity of a program with players that may not fit into that identity. While you're recruiting players that fit you and your scheme, you still have to figure out a way to win football games. Kugler's job was made more difficult due to the radical change he brought after the departure of Mike Price, who used a finesse, air raid scheme.
Add to that the fact that in mid-spring Kugler was already faced with replacing his defensive coordinator the job got real tough.
Kugler is bringing in more and more players that fit his system, but the going will be slow. Kugler has been quoted as saying that if things aren't better in three year, he'll walk. If the Miners don't develop an identity, he may not have a choice.
Have you given Jameill Showers any tools?
Jameill Showers was pretty serviceable at quarterback for the Miners in 2013. He was especially serviceable when he was on the field. Showers was able to keep games competitive, but once he went down (early on against Rice), the offense got worse and the defense got awful. Football is a symbiotic game.
Once Showers went down a trio of quarterbacks came on in relief. There was no relief to be had. So, knowing that Showers holds the key, what has UTEP done to help a brother out?
First and foremost, better O-line play will go a long way. better O-line play means better run-game, staying on schedule offensively, and more time in the pocket. More importantly it means keeping Showers upright.
As for the tools that Showers will surround Showers, sophomore Aaron Jones helps the cause after averaging 5 yards a carry. Jones took the job from incumbent Nathan Jeffery. Jeffery returns as well. Autrey Golden also returns at the runningback position after a 2013 season in which he was one of C-USA's most effective kick returners.
As far as options in the air, Showers' targets didn't do a great job of catching things when targeted. That has to change. Eric Tomlinson, a 6-7 tight end could be a great safety blanket for Showers. Nick Jones, another behemoth at 6-7 was inconsistent this spring, but he flashed at times.
On the outside Brandon Moss and Jarrod Shaw zoomed up the depth chart and join 6-5 target Ian Hamilton at the receiver position. If they can catch the ball consistently that will be an upgrade for this group.
How improved is the defense?
Kugler has raved about the defense coming out of the spring.
"They have really taken a big step forward. They're making plays and they're playing with energy, but the thing I get excited about is they're causing turnovers and turning them into points. They have been consistent throughout the spring, so my hat goes off to the entire defense, coach [Scott] Stoker and the staff."
They couldn't be worse. Kugler initially hired Jeff Choate who installed a 3-4. However, once Choate bolted for Florida, Kugler brought in Scott Stoker who went to a 4-2-5. Consistency in scheme should go a long way to helping the Miners in 2014.
Entering last fall the Miners were holding open auditions in the secondary, entering the summer of 2014 some of those questions have been answered. Devon Cockrell and Jameel Erving are established at safety along with sophomore Deshone Smith.
Up front the theme shifts as a number of contributors graduated leaving young ones to fill out the depth chart. Roy Robertson-Harris, at 6-7 255 will be the bell cow up front. He's a large man who needs to harness his size to become a more effective pass rusher. Nick Usher and Silas Firstley, both sophomores will see action opposite Roberson-Harris. Usher dominated in the spring game, but this was tempered by the fact that he was playing against UTEP.
The Miners need JC recruit Alex Villareal to be the real deal on the interior of the defensive front. Villareal missed the spring due to injury.
Who's that guy?
Jimmy Musgrave Junior, LB 6-0 235 Victorville, California.
Musgrave had a strong spring for UTEP and exhibited the kind of consistency that has his coaches raving. He's also been pretty physical and shown a knack for getting to the passer. All things that were lacking from UTEP's defense in 2013.
Musgrave has taken a rather circuitous route to El Paso. He walked on at Oregon for two seasons before spending last season at Victor Valley College near his hometown of Victorville.
Musgrave is listed as the backup Mike linebacker to incumbent Anthony Puente, but given how 2013 turned out for the Miners, incumbency is not a guarantee of playing time.
Kugler wants guys with passion and energy to suit up for his Miners. Based on early returns, Musgrave may be one of those guys. Now Kugler needs to find 10 others to fill things out.