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'We have a winning mentality': UTEP football defense building around a talented defensive line

Bret Bloomquist
El Paso Times

Historically, whenever the UTEP football team has changed defensive schemes and coordinators, the idea was to find a better way to hide the defensive line.

In that way, the offseason hiring of new coordinator Bradley Dale Peveto represents a radical new direction for the Miners. A year after landing a load of new talent on the defensive line to compliment veteran star defensive end Praise Amaewhule, UTEP is looking for ways to get its defensive front to the front and center.

They are building around the line, not away from it.

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UTEP defensive lineman Praise Amaewhule hits a tackling sled Monday morning at Glory Field

"It's hard to find d-linemen," coach Dana Dimel said. "I'm excited about the development of our defensive linemen, how fortunate we've been. Now that we have those top, marquee players, you want to see a Jadrian Taylor develop, (Kelton) Moss had a good year to compliment Keenan (Stewart) and Praise.

"What we're working on now is developing that second group."

That's because the first group is now so proven, starting with Amaewhule. Always a prodigious talent, he broke through as a sophomore last season, getting seven sacks in eight games while earning second-team All-Conference USA.

New defensive coordinator Bradley Dale Peveto oversees stretching during UTEP's spring practice Friday at Glory Field

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And suddenly there was talent alongside him, as a trio of first-year junior college transfers in end Jadrian Taylor and tackles Keenan Moss and Kelton Stewart gave UTEP punch in the front that had been missing for decades.

Amaewhule is still listed as a sophomore, but he's a leader now and sees the transformation across the line.

"The way guys are playing, the intensity, the focus, being locked in," he said. "Guys on the sideline are paying attention to the plays. Then going out on the field and having fun with it. That’s the biggest part, having fun, kicking (butt).

"It’s the mentality we have coming in. We worked a lot of long nights, early mornings as a group. We have guys like Jadrian Taylor, Kelton Moss, Keenan Stewart, guys are setting a standard for the guys coming in. They see our energy and want to feed off us. We have a winning mentality to dominate the line of scrimmage."

Tackles Keenan Moss and Kelton Stewart helped give UTEP a punch in the front that had been missing for decades.

There's also a new philosophy on how to go about that. Part of bringing Peveto in was to go to a scheme that bases out of four defensive lineman instead of the three-man fronts UTEP used extensively last year.

"One difference, we love who we're playing for now," Taylor said. "Last year it wasn't like that. We trust coach Peveto, everything he says we go by. That's different, that's what's going to make us win."

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Taylor said he has trust with everyone around him.

Amaewhule "is a great leader, I know I can lean on him," Taylor said. "We're both pass rushers, it's a race to the quarterback every play. When I'm in coverage I know he'll get to the quarterback so I might get a couple of picks.

"This year I get to coach up the young buds, I like that. Last year I was looking up to Praise and Josh (Ortega), I'm OG (old guard) now."

Offensive linemen trying to keep Amaewhule from getting to the quarterback will have more to deal with this year. Amaewhule put on 10 pounds of muscle in the offseason and appears to have stepped up a level so far this fall.

"He added weight he put on through this offseason, he's up over 250, closer to 255, that makes his ceiling even higher because it doesn't slow down his movement at all with his arm length," Dimel said. "His ceiling is to develop all aspects of his game and become even more tenacious in the pass rush."

As for Taylor, "Jadrian is starting to learn what it takes to work at the level he needs to work at to be the player he needs to be. He's developed that part of the game, the mental toughness.

"His body is looking different than it did even four, five months ago. He's playing with a lot more twitch to him. When you have a guy out there like Praise it helps those other guys to see what the expectations are at practice and a performance level."

The key now is getting that on the field, part of the reason for the change in coordinators.

"We need to be more disruptive in our defensive schemes," Dimel said. "We made a stride that way but we didn't make enough strides in that aspect. We made a lot of strides last year but we weren't disruptive enough as far as creating turnovers with the defensive front."

The feeling now is that UTEP has the ammunition to do that.

Bret Bloomquist can be reached at 915-546-6359; bbloomquist@elpasotimes.com; @Bretbloomquist on Twitter.