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UTEP begins its battle of spring shifts

Wochit

The UTEP football team started its spring with a lot of questions to answer, and that was the only thing typical of this spring.

The miners tightened six of their 15 allocated workouts before stopping the coronavirus, which was enough practice to excite them in the past three weeks that never happened.

Some of what they were trying to accomplish, like sorting their backs and getting more strikes and tackles, couldn’t take shape. UTEP also couldn’t do as much self-assessment that would give it a boost before the fall.

Other things to do, like getting a sense of their shifts and new arrivals, have at least started. Here is an overview of what they have done and what they still have to do.

Gavin Hardison throws pass while TJ Goodwin watches during first UTEP spring testing March 3

Gavin Hardison throws pass while TJ Goodwin watches during first UTEP spring testing March 3 (Photo: Bret Bloomquist)

Quarterbacks have a definition

As expected, Gavin Hardison and TJ Goodwin got some separation from Calvin Brownholtz and Isaiah Bravo and are clearly in the top two in the fall.

What has become evident in six practices is that Goodwin will get a full and fair shot when fall arrives. He was the most vaunted member of last year’s recruiting class, Hardison, a transfer, two years ahead of Goodwin, was the one who got playing time last season.

The two had good springs and set up what should be a real battle in the fall.

Coach Dana Dimel said the loss of nine training sessions in the spring hit the quarterback hard.

The flip side “was the development of young and new guys, the development of our shifts,” he said. “This is something that we will have to overcome.

“TJ Goodwin and Gavin will both be able to contribute to what we do. I am delighted with their progress,” said Dimel.

The offseason is a place where a quarterback can gain an advantage and it is an offseason like no other. With a spring and possibly a summer of isolation, Goodwin will likely be able to train with his younger brother Jayden, an Air Force signatory.

Kennan Stewart crosses a tackle dummy during a spring practice earlier in March

Kennan Stewart crosses a tackle dummy during a spring practice earlier in March (Photo: Bret Bloomquist)

Line D takes shape

If UTEP is going to improve this season, it has to make a big jump on the defense and the first returns have been good. Loaded with transfers to junior college, especially on the defensive line, and without the alleged fall presidents Josh Ortega and Praise Amaewhule, the miners had a good chance to watch the incoming class and enjoyed what they saw.

“Defensively, the last two practices have been solid,” said Dimel. “We have created a lot more turnover, a lot of new guys have really stood out. We have seen that a lot of these new guys are going to really help us.”

Dimel specifically highlighted linemen Keenan Stewart, Kelton, Moss, Jadrian Taylor, Deylon Williams and Jalen Rudolph, who are many names in the group of positions who most needed a quick infusion of talent.

When Ortega and Amaewhule join the mix, UTEP may be able to rotate three depths, which could lead to a dramatic jump in online production.

What UTEP lost

When asked how the shutdown would affect the transfer portal, Dimel said it would make life more difficult for players looking to leave and teams looking to find new blood.

“We don’t know as much as we need, you can’t find your deficiencies if you don’t practice,” he said. “We will look for our shortcomings in the practice of fall instead of spring.”

As much as the UTEP loved its new arrivals and the progression of its quarterbacks, the Miners would have liked to see nine more training sessions with them and would have liked a defense which needs a lot of improvement to tackle and strike more.

UTEP will be in catch-up mode there, but again, this is true across the country.

What are the fall issues?

The problems that the UTEP will have to solve in the fall will not change much than they were before the six training sessions in the spring. The tradition of 21 years of miners’ off-campus fall camps is coming to an end, because in a budget-saving movement, the team seems likely to exchange its Ruidoso camp for a camp on campus.

The big questions should be:

How is Goodwin vs Hardison going to come out?

Is Quardraiz Wadley healthy and ready to take a big load on the back, and who will support him?

Can the defensive line be as deep as the UTEP hopes?

Will the defense leap forward?

With UTEP starting all over again, is Trent Thompson ready to be a star?

And perhaps more importantly, in the absence of a conventional off-season due to stopping the coronavirus, what type of form will UTEP appear in when things return to normal?

Of course, this presupposes that everything returned to normal in August, which is the question that hangs over all the others.

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Bret Bloomquist can be reached at 915-546-6359; [email protected]; @Bretbloomquist on Twitter.