April 17, 2012
Today is the first in a series of University of New Mexico football position breakdowns -- the running backs.
Next up will be the secondary position breakdown on Friday.
By Greg Archuleta
UNM Athletic Assistant Director of Communications
DeAndre Smith is looking for the Lobos to make a grand return.
The University of New Mexico football assistant was the last coach to oversee a 1,000-yard rusher when Rodney Ferguson churned out 1,105 yards in 2008. It was the seventh straight season -- and ultimately, the last season -- in which UNM produced a 1,000-yard rusher. Smith left and Ferguson graduated after that season, and the Lobos barely surpassed that grand mark as a team in each of the next three seasons.
UNM ran for 1,358 yards collectively last season, which was its most since 2009 - the 2008 team that included Ferguson finished with 2,499 rushing yards.
No individual running back has rushed for more than 500 yards in a season during the last three years, and the Lobos have not had a single back run for 100 in game since Nov. 21, 2009.
First-year head coach Bob Davie called on Smith to return to help resurrect the offense's tough-guy mentality. In turn, Smith has immediately increased expectations on the position's production.
"I definitely see a 1,000-yard rusher," Smith said of his goals for the running back unit. "We have an offensive scheme that a back can really have a lot of success. We're going to run the football, which has me extremely excited. It's going to look a little different than what most people are used to seeing from this program, but at the end of the day you're going to see some good running backs carrying the football."
UNM will run the "pistol" offense, in which the quarterback lines up in shotgun formation and the running back lines up three yards directly behind him. Employing some option concepts, the offense will utilize the running back to find the seams in the zone blocking, rather than hit a designated hole that the blocking creates.
Smith adds that the unit will line up in two-back formations far more than it has the last few seasons.
He hopes his running backs can help restore the toughness reputation they had had when Smith was here last.
"I've been able to see since January what coach Davie has brought in and what the coaching staff has brought in, in terms of getting back to being physical and demanding and running the football," Smith said. "I feel pretty good about what we have and what we're capable of doing."
2012 Lobo Spring Running Backs:
Smith says junior Kasey Carrier has enjoyed the most consistent spring. Carrier, the team's leading rusher in 2010 with 373 yards, missed last season because of knee injury he suffered in fall camp that lingered into the season.
"We're asking him to do a lot, and everyday he's getting better," Smith said. "He needs to continue to get back in the swing of things because he's been out for so long. But he's a guy that's going to play a lot of football for us."
Junior Demarcus Rogers, the team's leading rusher returning from 2011 (242 yards), also could see extensive playing time in the fall.
"Demarcus is a solid player for us," Smith said. "He hasn't made as many plays as I would've hoped he would (in the spring), but he's a guy I'm hoping can add that big-play capability for us. He's a tough kid; that part I like. The biggest key for him is what he does this summer to determine how well he can play in the fall."
Redshirt freshman Jhurrell Pressley has shown tantalizing glimpses during spring practice of what he can do on the field.
"He's probably one of the better physically looking guys that we have," Smith said. "He's a freshman; he plays like a freshman at times. But he's more than capable of getting the job done. He just has to play more football."
Emmanuel Fatokun has moved from defensive back to running back and shown flashes of the prowess he had at McKinley Tech High School in Washington D.C.
"I can see where he was a pretty good running back when he was in high school," Smith said of Fatokun. "He's a very eager kid who just needs a lot of reps. He just came over (from defense) on his own, and to be honest, this is probably where he needs to be because he can do some things."
Smith had high hopes for sophomore Chase Clayton, the biggest back of the group at 6-foot-3, 215 pounds. A left knee injury, however, has kept Clayton out for part of spring practice.
"When he gets healthy, we're going to find a role for him," Smith said. "Chase has to do something for us because he's too good an athlete not to. I hate that he got hurt because it slowed down his progress. The summer's going to be huge for him."
Smith calls sophomore and St. Pius X graduate Xavier Madrid, "Mr. Dependable," an athlete who can contribute to the team down the road as he keeps improving.
"He wants to be here, loves the game and works his tail off," Smith said of Madrid. "He's a little undersized, but I'm glad X is with us. Somewhere down the road, X is going to help us do something."
Smith is confident he has enough players to do something productive in the fall at the running back position. Whereas Ferguson was the workhorse in 2008, Smith is hoping to develop multiple players in 2012. The role, after all, has changed from when Ferguson manned it.
It now requires more of a starting burst, rather than picking up a head of steam and powering through the line of scrimmage.
"Rodney would probably struggle a little in this offense," Smith said. "This scheme is suited more for guys like Kasey, Demarcus and Jhurrell."
If any of the backs can get to the 1,000-yard plateau that Smith wants, the Lobos may be able to run from their recent past and resemble the running attack that helped the team produce five bowl appearances in seven years from 2002-08.
"We're going to get this thing going," Smith said. "I'm proud to be a part of something that people are going to be proud of."
That's the grand return Smith seeks.