During Coach Mike Price's press conference this past Monday, he mentioned that safety was one of the positions he was not worried about prior to the season.
How quickly things change with the season-ending knee injury to senior safety Richard Spencer this past Saturday in the loss to Wisconsin. Spencer was arguably the best defensive player through the first four games of the season leading the Miners in tackles, forced fumbles and tied for the lead in interceptions and fumbles recovered.
Replacing Spencer won't be easy, but defensive coordinator Andre Patterson has some viable options to help offset the loss with a safety by committee approach.
There is quality depth at the position with redshirt freshman Shane Huhn, sophomore Wesley Miller and redshirt freshman Gage Sharp, but aside from replacing Spencer's playing ability the UTEP defensive coaching staff must overcome the lack of experience leaving team captain DeShawn Grayson the lone senior to lead the safeties.
With the start of conference play upon us culminated with a back-to-back road swing it is imperative for the UTEP defense to continue to play at a high level.
It won't be easy trying to replace Spencer and his playmaking abilities, but Huhn, Miller and Sharp have enough talent to close the gap. The defense will need all three to grow up in a hurry and raise their level of play, but the spotlight will be squarely on Huhn to take over the starting role for one of the most important positions on the field.
Defensive linemen have the linebackers to watch their backs and the linebackers have the safeties to cover their mistakes.
No such luxury for the safety position as they are the last line of defense which makes Spencer's injury that much more painful.
East Carolina isn't exactly an offensive juggernaut, but they play well at home and will mix it up with the run and pass. UTEP will have to keep an eye on junior college transfer running back Vintavious Cooper who is averaging 5.5 yards per carry. The 5-foot 9 inch, 200-pound Cooper is a speed back with 4.4 speed and can get in the secondary in a hurry.
The entire defense will need to come together to take some pressure off the safety position and whether it is Huhn, Miller or Sharp they must make plays or it could be a long day this Saturday for the Miners.
Josh Puga can be reached at [email protected] or you can follow him on Twitter at @jpuga1966 . Make sure to follow Miner Illustrated on Twitter at @minermaniac for more up-to-date news and information about UTEP.