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Four Questions During Spring Practice — UTEP

The Miners are entering year four of the Dana Dimel era. Can UTEP finally turn the corner?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 28 UTEP at Southern Miss Photo by Bobby McDuffie/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

After consecutive one-win seasons in his first two years as head coach, Dana Dimel is finally starting to see a measure of success in his efforts to rebuild the Miner football program. The team jumped out to a 3-1 start, albeit against less than formidable competition, before finishing with a 3-5 record. Dimel looks to build around promising talent on the offensive side and rising defensive lineman Praise Amaewhule.

In continuing with our offseason series of questions surrounding Conference USA teams during the spring, here’s our look at the Miners.

Note: Players’ class year reflects 2020 eligibility that will carry over to the 2021 season.

New Coordinators

After three seasons with Mike Cox and Mike Canales as his coordinators, Dimel chose to relieve both of their duties at the conclusion of the 2020 campaign. In their place are veteran assistants Dave Warner and Bradley Dale Peveto, who both have experience working or under Dimel at previous stops. The spring session will serve crucial for players as they get acclimated to both coaches, particularly Peveto, as he’ll implement a 4-2-5 base defense that’s a change from the base 3-3-5 and 4-3 looks that Cox deployed.

Comings and Goings

The defense loses linebackers Jayson VanHook and Stephen Forester, who both chose to conclude their UTEP careers. The two combined 35 career starts in El Paso and Forester led the team in tackles last season with 62. While junior Tyrice Knight returns, it’ll be worth watching to see who emerges at the linebacker spot.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 03 UTEP at Rice
Veteran running back Quardraiz Wadley returns after sitting out last season.
Photo by Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Offensively, the group will be bolstered by senior wideout Justin Garrett’s decision to return for an additional year and running back Quardraiz Wadley, who opted-out of last season. How Wadley will pair with standout redshirt freshman Deion Hankins in Warner’s offense should sort itself out in the spring.

Building on Last Year’s Offensive Success

While UTEP only averaged 23 points per game last year, slotting them 104th out of 128 FBS teams that played last season, there were signs of progression following two seasons of averaging below 20 per outing.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 11 UTEP at North Texas
Jacob Cowing has emerged as a big-play target in El Paso.
Photo by Matthew Pearce/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Last spring, the Miners had roughly a week and a half of spring practice before the COVID-19 shutdown. Having the full allotment of practices will be crucial for quarterback Gavin Hardison, Hankins, Garrett, and receiver Jacob Cowing to build chemistry. The foursome accounted for over 85% of UTEP’s offensive production last season.

Dana Dimel

While not necessarily a storyline for the spring, it is worth noting that Dimel is in the fourth season of the five-year contract that he signed when taking over in 2017. The 58-year-old wasn’t given an extension following the conclusion of last season and UTEP Athletic Director Jim Senter has publicly stated that he didn’t feel that Dimel’s rebuild is in a place that warrants a new deal. It will be imperative that Dimel makes as much progress as possible during the spring and that they’re not playing catch up in the Fall.