(Courtesy: UTEP Athletics)
EL PASO, Texas - With a defensive system designed for linebackers to make big plays, UTEP is fortunate to have one of the best in Conference USA with RS-senior Tyrice Knight.
Knight, a 2022 All-CUSA second-team member, tied for the team lead with 95 tackles a year ago and is poised for an even bigger season to cap his career in the Sun City.
Knight is in his fourth year with the Miners, and his experience is something that UTEP defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Bradley Dale Peveto values.
“It’s really good to have someone like Tyrice back,” Peveto said. “Any time that you’ve got a veteran returning who has played as many games as he has and made as many plays as he had, it’s a plus.”
Knight knows his experience and familiarity with the defensive scheme has a direct correlation to his performance on the field.
“I feel really comfortable with the system,” Knight said. “Playing fast comes with experience and game preparation. Every year I get faster with my experience. Before every snap I go through my pre-snap adjustments so that when something happens it makes me ahead of everybody.”
Peveto also notes the importance of Knight’s leadership, even if it is more by example.
“Not only is he a great football player, but he’s a great leader and a great person,” Peveto said. “He’s really helping bring our young guys along. He’s not a big rah-rah guy, he’s not going to say a whole lot. He leads by example and he’s one of those guys that when he talks, you listen. He isn’t a guy who runs his mouth and talks all the time, but when he sees something that isn’t right, he gets it corrected. That’s a great thing about him.”
Knight is a rarity in the changing landscape of college athletics, choosing to stick with UTEP in the age of NIL and the transfer portal.
“I came back to finish what I started here,” Knight said. “I want to make a name for myself here and to have people remember me when I leave (UTEP).”
The Miners’ 4-2-5 defensive alignment is predicated upon the defensive line doing its job up front to keep the linebackers free to roam to make plays.
Knight recognizes that everything he and the other linebackers accomplish wouldn’t be possible without the efforts of the four-man front.
“Good defenses always start with the people up front,” Knight said. “It makes everybody’s jobs easier. With the passing game, receivers don’t have a lot of time because they’re getting to the quarterback. With the running game, they eat up blocks so that the linebackers are able to flow freely. Having a good defensive line makes my game a lot easier.”
James Neal has been named the starter at the other linebacker position, marking the third straight year that Knight will be playing alongside a different player.
He is ready to do whatever it takes for Neal to hit the ground running.
“James is still new so I’m just helping him out and let him see what I see,” Knight said. “I’m calling out certain plays before they happen so that he can be a step ahead just like me. It’ll be good playing with him this year as we improve week-by-week.”
Peveto is also looking forward to seeing what Neal can bring to the table in what will be his first year as a starter.
“James has earned the starting position,” Peveto said. “This will be his third year with us. He redshirted last year. I consider him a veteran (even though) he’s not played in a lot of games. He’s been here, he knows our defense and he’s doing a good job too.”
Miner fans may not know Neal’s name yet given that most of his work has happened on the practice field, but that doesn’t concern Peveto.
“James has performed very well in practice,” Peveto said. “He just hasn’t played in a lot of games. He knows the defensive system and has done a good job of executing so far.”
The Orange and Blue are also excited to have Jerome Wilson Jr. back in the fold after injuries hindered his opportunities the past two seasons.
“He’s back and is healthy,” Peveto said. “He’s having a real good camp. He’s just having to knock some of the rust off.”
There are also some newcomers who will be given a chance to make an impact.
“We signed some really good young guys out of junior college who have come in and have learned our defense,” Peveto said. “We signed Josh Phillips, Jake Hall, Nate Dyman and Kenny Byrd. They’ve picked it up and are doing really well. I feel good about where we are at.”