UTEP Football Camp Storylines: Is Dennis Barnes a Factor on Both Sides?
UTEP fourth-year head coach Dana Dimel isn't shy when referencing coaching philosophies that he's brought over from his days as offensive coordinator under Bill Synder at Kansas State. One of the philosophies that he isn't afraid to embrace is having a standout player on the roster that can play on both sides.
As fall camp opens this week for the Miners, there will be several starting spots on the depth chart to fill. Junior Dennis Barnes has a chance to take a starting two-way role during the 2021 campaign for the Miners.
Barnes, who played in six games at cornerback last year for UTEP and started four games, has impressed his coaches this offseason with his pass-catching abilities as a wide receiver. The team first debuted the experiment during the spring game where Barnes dazzled in front of fans at the Sun Bowl and caught several passes from quarterback Gavin Hardison. It was obvious that the trial run had some serious potential.
"It’s a big thing at Kansas State," explained Dimel when he joined SportsTalk earlier this summer. "Bill Synder liked that. When you work with someone for that long, you have to have some of his traits to your philosophies. He did it with a man named Chris Canty. In our opening Big 12 game against Texas Tech, Chris played 104 snaps in the game and played both ways. Terence Newman was another guy we did it with at Kansas State later on. They were the same type of guys, corners that were fast."
Ever since his days at Jefferson City HS (MO), Barnes was a highly touted all-around athlete. The class of 2017 football prospect was also a four-time All-State wrestler and a three-time All-State hurdler. Upon graduating, he played two seasons at the JUCO level for Fort Scott Community College in Kansas. He strictly played as a cornerback and totaled two interceptions and seven pass breakups during the 2019 season.
Barnes came onto the scene at UTEP during his sophomore campaign. Through six games, he totaled 22 tackles, two tackles for losses, a forced fumble and fumble recovery. Following the Rice cancellation in 2020—where players that incorrectly tested positive on the trip had to be bused back to El Paso—Barnes and several other defensive backs entered the transfer portal. He, along with Dy'vonne Inyang, decided to rejoin the team a few weeks later.
With the addition of Kansas State transfer Walter Neil Jr., the Miners have one cornerback position locked up. Barnes is the other projected starter on the opposite side of Neil Jr. with Josh Caldwell serving as a quality backup to both corners. As for the wide receivers, there is currently an eight-man battle for the third and fourth spots at receiver.
"Probably our best corners are Walter Neil Jr., who is a proven star and having a great summer, and Dennis Barnes," suggested Dimel. "Dennis is a two-way player and you’re talking who is going to be that third receiver, we have plenty of candidates. Dennis is going to fill that fourth or fifth spot. He’s a guy that can really run and has speed. The deeper we are at secondary, the more I can steal Dennis for 10-15 snaps on offense."
UTEP fall camp kicks off on July 30.