March 23, 2010
New Mexico coach Mike Locksley has more of a head start this spring and so do his Lobos. It was a new coach and a new system on both sides of the ball last spring and there was some quick learning to do by both coaches and players.
This spring the Lobos have a season under Locksley's no-huddle, multi-attack offense and also went through the 2009 campaign adjusting to a four-front defensive look. Locksley has identified a few keys for this spring and one of those is to establish more of a smash-mouth mentality while looking for play makers for the 2010 season.
Here is a look at UNM's offense and defense heading into coach Locksley's second spring as a Lobo:
New Mexico enters the spring with an all-out quarterback competition after starter Donovan Porterie graduated. Juniors Brad Gruner and Tate Smith along with sophomore B.R. Holbrook will battle for the starting role. All three have a year in Locksley's system and will need to execute, and separate themselves from the pack, if they expect to see playing time.
Holbrook was the primary backup in 2009 and played in five games. In the first action of his career, Holbrook was 19-of-34 passing for 170 yards and 1 TD. Holbrook is a pro-style signal caller with a strong arm and good release.
Gruner hasn't played quarterback in a collegiate game since 2008 but continues to battle for playing time. Gruner emerged as a special teams contributor last year with four tackles. In 2008, Gruner started 10 games at QB accounting for 1,037 yards passing on 99-of-184 with 3 TDs. He has shown a toughness in the pocket and the ability to run the football.
Smith is the most athletic quarterback on the roster entering spring ball. Smith is coming off a redshirt year and hasn't seen action since 2008. Smith played in four games in `08 racking up 82 yards passing and 25 yards on the ground.
UNM added two freshmen quarterbacks on signing day in Stump Godfrey and Tarean Austin. Both fit the mold of a Locksley no-huddle quarterback and will be given an opportunity to compete for for the starting role once they arrive in Albuquerque. Expect these two standouts to push the three returners.
The Running Backs
The young Lobo running backs are impressive and have a lot of potential heading into the 2010 season. Flashes of greatness and depth makes this position extremely valuable. Sophomores Demond Dennis and Kasey Carrier emerged as the top two backs in 2009 while junior James Wright and junior A.J. Butler were used in backup roles.
Dennis accounted for a team-high 427 yards rushing, 3 touchdowns and 659 all-purpose yards. His explosiveness and speed make him dangerous.
Carrier, who played the final six games, shined in his limited action. Carrier rushed for 269 yards on 61 carries and has big play potential. A highly touted youngster from Texas, Carrier has great vision and breakaway speed.
Wright, who is a bruiser with good speed for a big back, was second on the team in rushing with 291 yards. He got most of those yards against Air Force when he rushed for career-highs of 126 yards and 2 TDs on just 5 carries.
Butler added a touchdown and 177 yards on 50 carries. A lean-quick back, who was fourth on the team in receiving with 32 catches and 213 yards. Butler likely will see time in the defensive backfield during spring ball as he contemplates a move to that side of the football.
The Offensive Line
The Lobos will be replacing three offensive linemen in 2010 including all-conference performer Erik Cook at center. UNM added depth on signing day but lacks experience at the Division I level.
Junior Byron Bell is back after starting every game at left tackle in `09 and is a solid NFL prospect. Bell has ideal size and strength for the position. He was a freshman All-American and will be a bright spot for New Mexico in 2010.
Karlin Givens and Mike Cannon seem like the perfect candidates to take the guard positions. They split time at left guard in 2009, but with the graduation of Joshua Taufalele they both could emerge as starters.
UNM will have a new center for the first time in three years with Erik Cook gone. Redshirt freshman Dillon Farrell was on the travel roster last year and will battle for the starting role. Cannon has experience at center while junior Mike Muniz will compete at the position.
Freshmen Earl Johnson and LaMar Bratton will be given opportunities to compete for playing time in 2010. Redshirt freshmen Daryl Johnson, Calvin McDowny and J.V. Mason will be in the mix this spring.
The Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
UNM returns talent at the wide receiver and tight end positions. Freshman All-American TE Lucas Reed is back along with WR Ty Kirk, who led all MWC freshmen with 427 yards receiving. Reed proved to be a valuable weapon in the Lobo offense in 2009 accounting for 17 catches and 212 yards.
UNM lost two of its top three receivers and will have healthy competition for playmakers this spring. Senior Bryant Williams is back and should be a favorite after catching 26 balls for 283 yards. Chris Hernandez and Quintell Solomon have shown big play potential during their careers.
Joining Reed at the tight end position will be Albuquerque native Jonathan Mader. Mader played as a redshirt freshman last year, but mostly during short yardage situations.
A host of true freshmen will arrive this summer and will be given close looks. The incoming freshmen include WR Martize Barr, WR Josh Ford, TE Brad Miller and Detchauz Wray, who is listed as a multi-purpose athlete.
The Defensive Line
The Defensive Line
New Mexico has three of four starters returning for 2010, including second-team All-MWC defensive end Jonathan Rainey. Factor in the addition of blue-chip defensive tackle recruit Calvin Smith and New Mexico's front four has the potential to become one of the more dangerous, physical, and quickest units in the country.
Rainey returns as one of the elite defensive ends in the Mountain West, if not all of the Bowl Subdivision. He joins a vastly improved junior DE, Jaymar Latchison. The duo combined for 98 tackles, 14 sacks and 24 tackles-for-loss.
Senior defensive tackle Peter Gardner was as good as advertised last season and got better as the season progressed. He started all 12 games in his first season in a Lobo uniform. Junior Brett Kennedy and sophomore Ahraya Crespin return as the defensive tackles most likely to push for the starting spot opposite Gardner.
Highly touted freshmen Calvin Smith and J.J. Hugine arrive at UNM in the summer and could emerge as factors on gameday.
The linebacker corps will have a new look this spring after graduating highly productive starters Clint McPeek and Tray Hardaway. Luckily for the Lobos, there's still an All-American returning for his junior campaign in Carmen Messina. A bevy of talented young players are competing to flank Messina at the two outside linebacker spots.
Messina, equally adept at dropping into coverage or stuffing the run, is the tip of the spear in New Mexico's defensive attack.
Sophomores Spencer Merritt and Joe Stoner, along with senior Terel Anyaibe and senior Cody Neely, return with the most experience at the outside linebacker spot. Stoner showed impressive range and a knack for finding the football during his freshman campaign.
The bigger, stronger Anyaibe proved a force on the strong side and weak side equally. Neely is an extremely smart player who coaches say is one of the more physical linebackers on the team. Merritt has shown his play making ability at times and could emerge as a potential starter.
Incoming freshmen Toby Ball and Zach Daugherty will arrive at UNM this summer and could compete for playing time while learning the Lobos' scheme. Both bring great size and explosive speed to the position.
The Defensive Backs
UNM added some much-needed depth in the secondary on signing day, but returns a number of experienced, athletic cornerbacks. Junior Anthony Hooks started every game at cornerback last season, netting 44 tackles, 2 pass breakups, 1.5 tackles for loss, and a forced fumble.
Opposite of Hooks, sophomore Emmanuel McPhearson started the final four games. Sophomore Nathan Enriquez shined at times throughout the year. Freshman DeShawn Mills started the first three games of the year, but saw limited action during conference play.
Junior Bubba Forrest filled in admirably for an injured Ian Clark last season, starting two games and seeing action in 11. McPhearson flashed the speed and overall athleticism as a true freshman that made him such a highly touted recruit.
Enriquez shined brightest against Texas Tech last season, snaring two jaw-dropping interceptions against the pass-happy Red Raiders. Enriquez started 6 games last season and played in 11, also recording 23 tackles, 3 pass breakups, 2 tackles for loss and a fumble recovery. Enriquez should factor heavily in the competition for reps at cornerback.
The Lobos will see five freshmen defensive back recruits arrive on campus this summer. Cornerbacks Julian Blair and Ravonne Carter, safeties James Grace and Devonta Tabannah and the multi-purpose Detchauz Wray should provide UNM with improved athleticism throughout the secondary.