UTEP's lost a phenomenal talent when Will Hernandez went to the NFL. Adding to the hardship they lost Derek Elmendorff at the other guard position, Hernandez and Elmendorff combined for 80 career starts. Now with a new offensive scheme, UTEP will follow a familiar blueprint and build from the front back. So what are we looking for with two new starters inside of UTEP's new look offensive front?
Why they're important: First, let's dispel some myths, offensive lineman, at least beyond the Friday Night Tykes, aren't just an assemblage of fat kids. They aren't interchangeable. Each position, even each side of an offensive line, plays a different role. When we talk about guards vs. tackles, generally, guards don't have ideal height or arm length to play outside. Tackles don't have the center of gravity/leverage to play inside. Tackles might be better athletes, but guards are usually stronger.
Tackles are going to face more athletic defensive ends or linebackers generally. Guards are either going to play head up on a two-technique or help with a bigger defensive lineman. They'll need to have better hip roll to get off the line and get movement from a defender.
If the interior of the offensive line is deficient, the defense stuff the play from the snap, timing becomes an issue, and the play is affected. That's why defensive tackle, after quarterback, might be the most critical position in football. A good defensive tackle or nose can have a positive impact on every play. Dealing with those play changers is essential.
Meet Derron Gatewood: If UTEP has an advantage even with a new set of guards, it's Derron Gatewood. The senior from Permian enters 2018 with 22 starts to his credit. Gatewood is a security blanket for the Miner offense. While most centers can play guard, not all guards can play center. Gatewood's football IQ and athleticism are tremendous assets.
Centers make what are known as line calls, which gives the other linemen, tight ends, and fullback their marching orders. Often a center will communicate who the "Mike" linebacker is so that linemen can then count from that "Mike" to determine their blocking assignments. A center will make blitz calls, change protections, and even run block schemes based on the defense's alignment. Some spread offenses even have the center dictate the timing of the snap. Centers do all this in the roughly ten seconds from either getting the play from the sideline or breaking the huddle.
An experienced center like Gatewood settles and focuses an offensive line.
Who we're watching: UTEP's guard options will be relatively raw. Bobby Deharo is a redshirt freshman from Montwood. He played tackle at Montwood, added some good weight and checks in at 290. He moved well for his size in high school, and he punches effectively.
Bijan Hosseini played at two JUCOs before arriving in El Paso. He's a senior, and while he won't win any footraces, he's physical with a nice mean streak. Markos Lujan is another local product out of Americas. He's a senior as well and has probably played more than any other inside option.
UTEP signed a boatload of offensive linemen in the last recruiting cycle, Tristin Tuialuuluu will play inside, he's a thumper, but the preference is for most of the high school signees to redshirt and gets a year under their belts in the weight room and training table.
With UTEP's depth at tackle, Rueben Guerra might move inside to compensate as well.
Introducing Mike Simmonds: In my experience, offensive line coaches are among the best for knowing where to eat on the road, excellent company at a bar, and always in need of a throat lozenge. If they don't need a Halls, they aren't coaching. It's probably the offseason. Mike Simmonds has a great, scratchy, line coach voice. Straight out of central casting.
Simmonds enters his 29th year of coaching the big uglies. Like a lot of Dana Dimel's hires, he's old school. He coached with offensive coordinator Mike Canales at North Texas. He coached with Jim Leavitt at South Florida, speaking of throat lozenges.
His job is to get the Miners playing with pad level and moving downhill with malice aforethought. Here's a little mic'd up snippet of Simmonds from last season at UNI.
What to watch for: The first thing you'll look for in a guard is the stance. Are they in a proper power stance, balanced with a good base? Not light or heavy giving the defense a key of whether it's a run or pass, but flat back, outside foot slightly back, legs from the hip to toe forming a "z."
We want to see violent hands. Every great block whether in a run set or pass pro starts with hands. In a run set, a lot of coaches practice with a defending holding a 2x4 at their chest to teach linemen proper hand placement and focus them on keeping their elbows in and thumbs up. That alignment of the hand, to elbow, to shoulder allows for maximum shock or punch.
In pass pro, you when with your feet and your head. If your feet don't move, a decent defender will beat you like a rented mule; go ahead and scream "watch out." If you head drops, chances are you're a dreaded waist bender instead of a knee bender, and you're out of balance.
Offensive lines work in unison; the five positions are fingers of a hand. To work as a unit, communication is critical both before and during a play. We'll want to see good exchanges on twists and games, movement by the defensive line to create confusion.
You'll want to see whether they can maintain appropriate distance and relation to each other. Most twists games are going to depend on a guard or center committing too soon, turning his shoulders, losing depth and creating space for penetration. On run blocks, do they step playside and keep in relation to each other before a double or combo. Does the unit function together or are they different pieces that don't move together.