In continuing with our game week coverage, we take a look at all position groups and what to look for this year. Though few linebackers play in the 4-2-5 scheme, their impact is crucial to the success of the defense.
This Miner linebacking core is a group that is older and looking to improve on a disastrous 2013 season statically. The good thing and a bright spot for the UTEP program is that this group has had time to develop and gain experience as a unit. Wins are important, but game experience may just be as valuable.
UTEP coaches feel great about the linebackers and that is an encouraging sign. The majority of teams make their biggest jump in performances from year one to year two under new coaches. Another season under Defensive Coordinator Scott Stoker can only benefit this program by understanding schemes and learning to play together.
Leading the LB corps is senior Anthony Puente. Puente is the seasoned veteran of the group, playing in every Miner contest the last two seasons including starting all of the 2013 season. Though undersized, Puente packs a punch and led the LB unit in tackles a season ago.
Slated in the lineup next to Puente is first-year starter Trey Brown. Brown played primarily on special teams last season. Still, any game experience is crucial for a young defense and that should benefit the middle of this defense. Head Coach Sean Kugler was excited about Brown's performance in UTEP fall camp in a recent interview with the El Paso Times
"Trey Brown was outstanding," coach Sean Kugler gushed. "I get excited by defensive football, guys running hard, putting hits on the ball. I loved the energy, it gets me excited.
Behind these two on the depth chart are a pair of linebackers ready to scratch the surface and could see many reps in the rotation. Jimmy Musgrave is a JUCO transfer who proved that he excels in making plays in the backfield. The junior had 94 tackles including 8 sacks last season at Victor Valley College.
Alvin Jones, twin brother of UTEP running back Aaron Jones redshirted last season and looks to bring athleticism to the defensive side of the ball. His senior season Jones had a whopping 27 touchdowns as a quarterback rushing and passing combined. The type of quickness he brings could pay dividends for this defense that lacked speed and a push at the line of scrimmage.
With more time in Stoker's 4-2-5 this unit needs to be the core of this defense that ranked 107th nationally in total defense. Look for Puente to again lead this side of the ball and for the linebackers core to grow overall.