The UTEP football team has a good mix of veterans and returnees when it comes to its secondary, but make no mistake about it, everyone is paying strict attention to the coaching from cornerbacks coach Trevin Wade and safeties coach Dante Barnett.
Both have ties to the NFL, which has immense value according to senior defensive back Dennis Barnes.
“It’s really good. They have a lot of IQ in the game,” Barnes said. “They want us to be the best versions of ourselves. They push us to the max.”
Barnett knows that everyone on the roster wants to follow in their footsteps and takes advantage of that.
“It’s something (playing in the NFL) they all have the dream of doing,” Barnett said. “Having guys who have that experience is nothing but great. We can dive down deeper and teach them to really play the position.”
Wade also knows how to capitalize on his NFL experience when it comes to coaching.
“I think I can be a little harder and harsh on them because they know I’ve done it,” Wade said. “I’ve been through what they’ve been through, and I’ve made it to the top. There’s really nothing they can say to go against my word. Hopefully they get inspired by that, tend to listen more and have success.”
The units have had a good camp according to Barnes.
“It’s going well,” Barnes said. “Day-by-day we’re getting better and finding our chemistry with each other. As long as we’re in the film room and learning what we have to do, it’s going to be a good Saturday for us.”
His individual game has also progressed from a year ago, something he credits to Wade and Barnett.
“I think I got a lot smarter and a lot more disciplined in my technique,” Barnes said. “I’m going to make a lot more plays from the IQ that I’ve learned from coach Wade and coach Barnett.”
It all comes down to making plays on Saturday, which the cornerbacks and safeties are zeroed in on.
“Our goals as a whole are to just make plays and be aggressive when the ball is in the air,” Barnes said. “Make tackles whenever they come around, help our defense be successful. It starts with us. Defense wins championships.”
Justin Prince and Barnes both started a year ago at safety for the Miners, but they aren’t the only players at the position to keep an eye on.
“There’s a ton of names (to pay attention to),” Barnett said. “We have Justin Prince, Kobe Hylton, Tyrek James, Tyson Wilson, McKel Broussard, D’Angelo Bellamy. That’s a loaded room, and I’m very confident with just about everybody in the room.”
Overall, Barnett is happy with where the safeties are at in this point of camp.
“The safeties are coming along pretty well,” Barnett said. “That’s a veteran group. A lot of guys played last year and helped the team out. Any time you can have guys with playing experience and then add depth within your room, that’s nothing but great things for our defense.”
It’s a similar feeling for Wade with the cornerbacks, who lost both starters (Josh Caldwell and Walter Neil Jr.) from last year.
“They are (the cornerbacks) coming along pretty good,” Wade said. “We’re working our technique, good eyes and trying to make plays on the ball when it’s in the air. Everybody is competing and making plays. It’s going to be a tough decision to figure out who is going to be our starters.”
They’ve also made the most of going up daily against a proven offense with quarterback Gavin Hardison at the helm.
“The offense is throwing a lot at us and it’s never the same thing every day,” Wade said. “We’re seeing a bunch of volume. Different guys come out here and get a new look, figure out how to adjust and try to make plays.”
Head coach Dana Dimel is also a believer with regards to his secondary.
“It should be a good group of guys as far our depth goes and our athleticism,” Dimel said. “We’ll just have to see who makes plays once games start. It’s nice having Barnes, JP (Justin Prince), Wilson as well a lot of other guys like James and Broussard. We feel like we’re really deep at the safety position. We have a lot of guys with a bunch of experience. The five new guys that we brought in we really feel like are going to help us between Josiah (Allen) and Hylton. Latrez Shelton and Amier Boyd, we’re counting on to do some good things for us, and of course Deshaun Trotter developing too.”