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STEVENS: Lobos' Quarterback Battle Has Begun
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics  
Release:  08/09/2009
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics

Aug. 9, 2009

"I really believe offensive football is all about getting the ball to the guys who have the ability to make plays for you." -- Mike Locksley.

By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/GoLobos.com

It is a battle and a decision that has the attention of all Lobos. On a Lobo level, the interest is revved up on an Obama vs. McCain scale, but the deciding votes will not come from Democrats, Republicans or the common Lobo.

The eventual quarterback who will lead the 2009 Lobos into Mountain West and non-conference battle and try to reverse the depressed economy found in the Lobo huddle of 2008 will be determined by a small committee of University of New Mexico coaches.

UNM's head man Mike Locksley obviously has the final power of veto or approval, but additional input on this decision that has the attention of the Lobo nation also will come from Darrell Dickey, Locksley's offensive coordinator, and Tee Martin, the Lobos' quarterback coach.

And, of course, maybe the most important input will come from the Lobos who have thrown their hat and their skills into this race: Donovan Porterie, Brad Gruner, Tate Smith and B.R. Holbrook.

"I'll be looking at empirical data," said Locksley. "I'm big on what you see is what you get. We'll be going off data and statistics from practice.

"How you practice is indicative of what you'll do in games. These guys will be graded on everything from how they stretch to start practice from how they walk off the field."

The good news for Locksley and UNM fans is that there is a lot of talent and positives within this group of quarterbacks. The bad news is that a lot of this talent was present on the 2008 offense that threw for only 131.3 yards per game last season.

"All the quarterbacks are pretty close and that leaves the door open for good competition," said Porterie, a senior and a three-year starter. "I'm hungry to get back out there and I'll be out there working hard."

Said Smith, a junior: "I don't like sitting on the bench and there isn't a good quarterback who likes to sit on the bench. "

Locksley said there is no frontrunner in this race and will await his review of empirical data. But the preliminaries and stats that are pre-Locksley probably have most Lobo fans eyeing a showdown between Porterie and Gruner with Smith and Holbrook on the outside as dark horse candidates.

Porterie owned the huddle at the beginning of the 2008 season before going down with a knee injury. He averaged 93 yards passing in four games. Gruner got eight starts and, playing in ten games, averaged 103.7 yards per game. Tate slipped in for four games and threw for a 20.5-yard average.

These are not the numbers Locksley will be looking for out of his no-huddle, multi-Lobo attack. The economy, the efficiency, out of the UNM huddle of 2008 was not good: 21.1 points per game, 131.3 passing yards per game, four passing touchdowns in the season.

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"These guys will be graded on everything from how they stretch to start practice from how they walk off the field."
Lobo Coach Mike Locksley
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Locksley hopes to change that with a different offensive philosophy which will require improved execution and emphasize getting the ball into the hands of Lobos who can advance it forward -- and into the end zone. The decision as to which playmaker (quarterback) gets to touch the ball first is vital to the offensive success of 2009.

"It's obviously a key position in any offense," said Locksley. "And I understand it's something that interest fans."

The race interests Locksley and the candidates, too. Smith, the No. 3 guy in 2008, likes the open-door policy in the race for the 2009 huddle.

"When a coach tells you the job is open, you want to take advantage of that," said Smith. "I have a chance to show the coaches I can play and of course I want the starting job. Each one of us has something to give that the other one doesn't."

Gruner's edge in this race might be his overall toughness which also seems to be something that impresses his teammates. Gruner doesn't go feet first into tackles. He often -- probably too often -- lowers his head. But the guy can get that tough yard.

"The guys know that I'll take a hit and get back up," said Gruner, a sophomore. "I think they like that mentality in a quarterback. A lot of people say I'm a linebacker playing quarterback and I guess there is some truth in that.

"My running game is good, but my passing game is getting better. I don't feel anyone is ahead of anyone else. I'm sure it will come down to which one of us the coaches think can manage the game and move the ball."

The quarterback data began pouring in last week when fall ball opened in the Locksley era. Most likely, the winner won't be announced until the week of the season opener at Texas A&M on Sept. 5.

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