The quarterback position attracted a lot of attention during UTEP's spring football camp.
Some of that was good. Some of it wasn't.
Camp began without starting quarterback Trevor Vittatoe, who was suspended for the first two weeks for an unspecified violation of team rules. It was expected that he would return for the final scrimmages and the April 24 spring game, but that plan hit a snag. Vittatoe had surgery, what the school called a "minor procedure" on his right shoulder, and won't throw again until mid-June.
"Being suspended, being away from the team, it was really hard," Vittatoe said in the El-Paso Times. "I didn't realize how much it hurt me personally and it hurt the team. I'll grow from it, do the right things, keep myself out of trouble. This makes me appreciate being on the team more."
Vittatoe, starting offensive tackle Alex Solot and receiver Pierce Hunter were suspended for the first six workouts of the spring sessions. The shoulder began bothering Vittatoe in March and he decided to have the surgery just before his scheduled return.
James Thomas II, Vittatoe's likely backup, also missed spring ball with an injury. The injuries gave walk-on Carson Meger and Tim Curry an opportunity and both were impressive. Meger completed 14-of-27 passes for 182 yards and three touchdowns, leading the Blue team to a 31-17 victory over the Orange. Meger's performance might have earned him a scholarship. Curry was 20-of-36 for 144 yards and two touchdowns.INSIDE SLANT
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
2010 OUTLOOK: This is a big season for coach Mike Price and the Miners. UTEP is coming off a 4-8 overall record and a 3-5 mark in Conference USA, including a four-game losing streak late in the season. The Miners will find out quickly where they stand with a visit to league favorite Houston in the second game of the season. The Cougars certainly haven't forgotten the 58-41 loss at El Paso last season.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Trevor Vittatoe is the key to UTEP's offense. He has completed 56 percent of his passes for 9,683 yards with 75 touchdowns and only 29 interceptions in his first three seasons. After throwing for 25 and 33 TDs in his first two years, Vittatoe's production dropped a bit in 2009. He threw for 17 TDs, but still completed 55 percent of his throws for 3,308 yards. Senior running back Donald Buckram, who was banged up in the spring, set single-season school records with 1,594 yards rushing and eight 100-yard rushing games. The two will be a potent one-two punch.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: UTEP allowed 30 or more points eight times last season. New coordinator Andre Patterson is switching to a 4-3 defense. The onus will be on the linemen to control the line of scrimmage. That will give the linebackers the opportunity to make plays. The defense is young and inexperienced in many spots. Only four starters return - safety Braxton Amy, end Robert Soleyjacks and linebackers Royzell Smith and Jeremy Springer. The Miners have applied to the NCAA for a medical redshirt for Amy.
SCOUTING THE SPECIAL TEAMS: A void must be filled in the kicking game. Junior college transfer Dakota Warren could handle the kicking and punting duties. Mike Scott and Kevin Lopez both connected on long field goals in the spring game.
--TE Jonny Moore suffered a dislocated shoulder in a scrimmage. The injury further depletes depth at the position. Geoff Amato, Kevin Perry and Craig Wenrick were already injured.
--OT Will Osolinsky missed spring ball, but is one of the candidates for the left tackle spot.
--Several other players missed the spring with injuries, including WRs Montreyle McCormick and Marlon McClure, DB Saul Adame, RB Vernon Frazier, DL Quentin Jones and DL Austin Shaffer.
?? A film crew has been with the Tulsa football team since Signing Day, shooting footage for a documentary of life at one of the smallest school's in the FBS.
?? Golden Hurricane coach Todd Graham admitted that he wouldn't have allowed a film crew so much access to a team he didn't expect to excel.
But whether Tulsa's movie has a happy ending -- bouncing back from a letdown 5-7 finish in 2009 -- depends on several factors.
?? Foremost in the rebuilding effort is the development of the offensive line. The group has to protect better if Tulsa is to return to its high-octane status.
?? If the line holds up, junior quarterback and second-year starter G.J. Kinne, along with a talented group of receivers, have a chance to light up the scoreboard.
?? Then the Golden Hurricane could return to the form that made them one of the best teams outside the BCS.?
?? --If early indications prove accurate, the Tulsa offense should be more efficient this season under new offensive coordinator Chad Morris. Head coach Todd Graham wanted his hurry-up offense to be quicker, and he seems to have gotten his wish.
?? --Tanner Antle is back. The senior-to-be will return to help what probably will be a young linebacking corps. There was some doubt. Antle, dealing with personal issues, left the team for three weeks during spring ball, but returned for the spring game.
?? SPRING MOVERS:
?? QB G.J. Kinne -- Entering his second year as Golden Hurricane starter, Kinne needed to show he could manage the team. After poor decision that led to an early interception in the spring game, he showed that game management ability.
?? CB John Flanders -- Don't be surprised if Flanders is a leader among Tulsa's rebuilt defense backfield. He led all players with seven tackles in the spring game.
?? DE Odrick Ray -- Perhaps the most impressive defensive performance of the spring game went to Ray. He registered three sacks.
?? DB DeAundre Brown -- Brown displayed big play ability during the spring game. He snagged the game's only interception.
?? QUOTE TO NOTE: "I wanted to come out this spring and forget last year. I've done that. We've brought in coach (Chad) Morris and everything is clicking on all cylinders. I have confidence in my receivers and offensive line. We're feeling good right now." -- Quarterback G.J. Kinne to the Tulsa World.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
?? 2010 OUTLOOK: Coaches and players spoke with much optimism during the spring. With more experience at the offensive line and quarterback positions, plus a playbook change that should bring more explosiveness, there is plenty reason for that. Tulsa also has a friendlier schedule that should place the team back in bowl contention, and maybe even among the fray for the Conference USA crown.
?? SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Last year's offense ranked 35th nationally, which would be thrilling for most programs. For Tulsa it was a sign of youth and a harbinger of change. With four starters returning to the offensive line, Tulsa shouldn't have the protection issues that stunted QB G.J. Kinne's first year as starter. He has plenty of weapons at his disposal.
?? SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Tulsa's linebackers likely will be green. The Golden Hurricane lost a three-year starter and should see a couple freshmen here. The coaching staff recruited eight players for the defensive backfield. Tulsa is probably still a shootout team in an offensive league.
?? SCOUTING THE SPECIAL TEAMS: Place-kicker Kevin Fitzpatrick missed two field goals and an extra point in the spring game. Tulsa hopes it was just a hiccup. Last year he missed only one field goal. When Tulsa does punt -- the occasion could be rare with a high-octane, risk-embracing offense -- it should be in good shape. Senior-to-be Michael Such boomed a 68-yard punt during the spring game. He seems to have the form that placed him among the top 10 nationally last season.
?? ROSTER REPORT:
?? --WR Jameel Owens, a mid-year transfer from Oklahoma, is still waiting for a hardship waiver from the NCAA that would allow him to play this season. His mother has an illness. If he doesn't get it, he'll have to wait another season.
?? --CB John Flanders moved to his new position from the safety spot during the spring.
?? --LB Shawn Jackson impressed coaches this spring and could contribute this season. Not bad for a guy who spent last year as a roughneck on an oil field.
Spring brings excitement about offenses and quarterback battles.
At UAB, it's no different but the true story of the 2010 season likely won't be about the offense nearly as much as it is about a defense that, simply put, wasn't very good in 2009.
"It's always been about the offense so it's our time to show up," said defensive end Tim Davis told the Birmingham News.
The early reviews on that defense after spring drills wrapped up April 17 are mixed at best.
The defense that finished ranked between 106 and 114 in total defense in each of the last three seasons allowed the Blazers offense to score plenty in a spring game won 42-29 by the team comprised of the first team offense going against the defensive regulars.
Whether that is a sign of a great Blazers offense or more of the same from the defense is hard to say.
Aside from the glorified scrimmage aspect of spring games not being very defense friendly, there are also reports from UAB offensive players that seem to be very complimentary to the improvements on the defensive side of the ball.
"Oh my gosh, our defense is going to be so much better," quarterback Bryan Ellis told the Birmingham News prior to the April 17 spring game after having faced that defense through 14 spring practices. "We don't even have a couple of guys (this spring) we're going to depend on come fall, and our defense has definitely come a long way."
Just how far they've come won't truly be seen until the team's Sept. 4 opener against Florida Atlantic.
--Head coach Neil Callaway is certainly going for a no-nonsense approach this year. Never was that message clearer than during the team's April 17 spring game when LB Keon Harris tackled RB Daniel Borne for no gain and began celebrating the play with fellow LB Marvin Burdette.
Despite no flag being thrown by the game officials, Callaway interjected and had the referee enforce a 15-yard penalty on the defense for excessive celebration, according to the Birmingham News.
--Blazers opponents may want to be ready to defend the two-point conversion this fall.
With the team's April 17 spring game being played on the West Campus Field, one used primarily for soccer and not football, there was only one goal post. Touchdowns scored on the end zone without a goal post resulted in five UAB two-point conversions.
It wasn't as though K Josh Zane didn't get some opportunities, though. He hit a 26-yard field goal and missed two others (45 and 53 yarders). He also made all four extra point tries on the other end of the field.
QB David Isabelle -- In the hotly contested battle to replace star dual-threat QB Joe Webb, Isabelle may have looked the part most in spring. In the first half of the spring game, Isabelle completed 10 of 14 passes for 123 yards and two touchdown tosses while adding 99 rushing yards on 12 carries.
S Brock Ferguson -- An interception and a fumble recovery in the spring game capped an impressive 15-practice stretch for Ferguson. His interception was returned 53 yards for a touchdown.
WR Mike Jones -- Jones grabbed the attention of head coach Neil Callaway throughout spring practice and certainly capped off that productive spring in style with six receptions for 92 yards and two touchdowns in the spring game. "Without a doubt he's done the best job of any of our receivers," Callaway said.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We've got to eliminate the mistakes. We made enough big plays (in spring practice) to where we can do some good things, but we have to eliminate the mistakes for that to happen." -- UAB head coach Neil Callaway.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
2010 OUTLOOK: UAB has been all offense and very little defense for some time. With the loss of last year's senior star quarterback Joe Webb, the offense could be taking a step back and the only way for the Blazers to improve overall as a team is for the defense to improve.
While only five enrolled in January, UAB signed 12 junior college transfers, sending the clear message that no job is safe and a quick fix approach is in effect for the program desperate to return to bowl eligibility after a 5-7 season (4-4 in CUSA play).
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: While thin with injuries in spring, the wide receiving corps looked strong for UAB, which should help out whoever wins the quarterback position left vacant with the departure of dual-threat star QB Joe Webb. WR Frantrell Forrest, the team's leading returning receiver, and WR Mike Jones, both looked like potential upper-tier wide outs during the spring.
QBs David Isabelle and Bryan Ellis are still battling for the team's starting job, but Isabelle left spring drills with the upper hand, having a better spring game and getting the first-half nod over Ellis, who both played with the first-team offense in the spring game.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The defense needs to improve for UAB to compete this season and try to reach bowl eligibility, which is why head coach Neil Callaway used plenty of scholarships on that side of the ball during the signing period. The quick-fix approach to shoring up the defense brought in 12 junior college players on defense, including January enrollee S Jamie Bender who should step in and become one of the anchors on that side of the ball from the Sept. 4 opener on.
The secondary had a good spring. In addition to the emergence of Bender, CB Marquise Coleman and S Brock Ferguson both played well, coming up with a combined three takeaways during the spring game.
SCOUTING THE SPECIAL TEAMS: While it needs to be noted there wasn't a pass rush used on punting plays during the April 17 spring game, it was still impressive to see P Trey Ragland boot seven balls in the scrimmage for an average of 46.4 yards. He averaged 42.8 yards per punt in 2009.
K Josh Zahn had a solid spring despite going 1-for-3 on field goals in the spring game. He hit on a 26-yards attempt and missed long tries from 45 and 53 yards.
There are a plethora of speedy return men to choose from for UAB come fall, including last year's leading kick returner WR Frantrell Forrest.
--The four-man quarterback battle entering spring seems to have been dwindled down to two, if not one. QB David Isabelle was most impressive in spring, and in particular in with his 222 yards of offense (123 passing, 99 rushing) in the spring game. QB Bryan Ellis was the other starter used on the team's Green roster, the unit that the coaches placed their first teamers on for offense.
QBs Joe Bento and Jonathan Perry split time on the White team with the second team offense.
--With backup C Adam Arthur out with minor injuries for the April 17 spring game, starting C Darion Smith played 110 snaps, manning the position for both the Green and White teams in the glorified scrimmage.
--S Jamie Bender, one of five junior college transfers who enrolled in January at UAB (the team signed 12 for the 2010 season) had a very productive spring and made six tackles in the spring game, third most on the team.NOTES, QUOTES
--The Miners need more production from WR Kris Adams. After catching 14 touchdown passes in 2008, he caught only two last season as a junior. "The key for Kris is getting a little stronger ... putting on a little bit more weight, but it has to be muscle," coach Mike Price said. "He should be tremendous if he stays healthy. He?s running and catching well, he just needs to be a little more physical."
--Senior OL Rod Huntley anchors the line. He started all 12 games at right guard last season. The coaches are doing some juggling on the line, which they hope will build depth. Huntley and Alex Solot, who was suspended for the first part of spring ball, will be on the right side. Tanner Cullumber appears to have a starting job locked up, either at center or left guard. Eloy Atkinson could win the job at center. Anthony McNac will get a chance to be the starting left guard.
--Sophomore DB DeShawn Grayson looks to build off a strong season, in which he made the league's all-freshman team. He made 65 tackles, good for fifth on the team, despite making only five starts. Grayson also had games where he recorded 14 and 10 tackles. He could be an emerging star on the defense.
TE Elijah Goldtrap -- After playing well in the scrimmages, he caught four passes for 23 yards and a touchdown in the spring game.
DT Garmard Reed -- The redshirt freshman made big strides and could get significant playing time.
OT James Nelson -- The junior college transfer impressed the coaching staff enough to move up on the depth chart.
CB Travaun Nixon -- The transfer emerged in spring camp and could fill one of the Miners' biggest holes.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "He did quite a bit last year. I think he'll be even better this year. He's bigger. He could be 200 pounds by the time the season starts, so he'll be more of a physical running back and will last longer." -- UTEP coach Mike Price on running back Donald Buckram.
Previous Report: 04/28/2010