After fielding one of the Mountain West Conference's most explosive units in 2003, inexperience and injury forced the New Mexico offense to endure some growing pains at times during the 2004 season. With new faces at quarterback, wide receiver and a few important spots in the offensive line, the offense was understandably inconsistent. With its key players healthy, however, the Lobo attack showed incredible potential. The offensive unit grew more dependable and dangerous throughout the year, capping the season with a tremendous, balanced performance in muddy conditions at the Emerald Bowl.
This fall, nine starters and 21 lettermen are expected back for sixth-year offensive coordinator Dan Dodd, including some of the best talent at wide receiver, running back and offensive line the UNM football program has ever seen. Dodd will also have the luxury of opening up his diverse playbook more this season with junior quarterback Kole McKamey back under center.
However, there will be some hurdles for Dodd and the offensive unit to overcome this spring, perhaps the biggest being the temporary loss of All-America tailback DonTrell Moore as he continues to recover from the knee injury he suffered in the Lobos' bowl game. With Moore out until fall camp, a young, largely inexperienced group of tailbacks will get a chance to make their mark. New Mexico will also look to develop a pair of new starters on the offensive line with the graduation of four-year starter Claude Terrell and the tenacious Bryan Humphreys.
QUARTERBACKA budding star in junior Kole McKamey (Artesia, N.M.) returns to lead an up-and-coming Lobo quarterback crew this season. In his first year as a starter, the 6-2, 208-pound McKamey showed signs of being one of the top young signal callers in the MWC, when healthy. Concussions limited his progress early in the season, forcing him to miss or be significantly slowed in three games. Healthy down the stretch, however, McKamey steadily grew more comfortable and began to engineer the UNM offense with the confidence of a veteran. More impressively, he began to move beyond the game manager role and proved to be a true game-changer, averaging 269 yards of total offense (145 rushing) in the Lobos' final two contests.
"I think we would have seen that out of Kole earlier, except he had some injury problems in the middle of the year," Long said. "I also think our offensive staff did a nice job of adding some things to our package that took advantage of a quarterback that could move around."
While McKamey enters the spring as the top candidate to start under center, Long said that, like other positions on the team, the quarterback duties will be open to competition.
"We expect Kole to be a lot better and he obviously has some advantages as the returning starter, but we're going to let some guys compete for the starting and backup jobs in spring practice," he said.
Sophomore Tye Butler (Big Spring, Texas) will open the spring as the No. 2 quarterback after holding down the third string role last year, but redshirt freshman Steve Harris (Las Vegas, Nev.) and sophomore Bryan Clampitt (Dallas, Texas) will also battle for the job. Long also signed 6-4, 215-pound junior college quarterback Chris Nelson (Garden City, Kan.), a versatile rushing and throwing threat, who could push McKamey for the starting role.
RUNNING BACKThe sight of DonTrell Moore (Roswell, N.M.) being carried off the field after suffering a torn ACL in his left knee in the 2004 Emerald Bowl initially cast a dark cloud over the Lobo football program. A three-time first team all-Mountain West selection, Moore had eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark in each of his three seasons and was 187 yards shy of the UNM career rushing record at the time of his injury. However, the mood began to brighten around Albuquerque following successful surgery to repair the knee and word of Moore's rapid progress in the first stages of his rehabilitation.
"We think he's going to be ready by fall camp, which would obviously be a big plus for us," Long said. "If he's healthy and ready to go, there's no question mark at tailback. We have some really good athletes at that position, but they don't have the proven ability in a game setting that DonTrell has."
As he enters his senior season, the 5-10, 208-pound Moore ranks No. 2 nationally among active career rushing leaders with 3,675 yards. He also has a shot at becoming just the sixth player in Division I-A history to reach 1,000 yards rushing four times in a career. More valuable than his statistical production, however, Moore's leadership, character and role, albeit a reluctant one, as the Lobos' banner player have made him an integral piece of New Mexico's resurgent program.
"DonTrell has been an excellent player for us who has gotten well-deserved notoriety because of his success," Long said. "More important than that, he's been a quality football player and a quality guy. He's somebody that we can count on to be a top-notch performer and a team guy, all in the same package."
While Moore sits out, up-and-coming sophomore Rodney Ferguson (Albuquerque, N.M.) will look to establish himself as perhaps the next great Lobo tailback. A bruising ball-carrier at 6-0, 220 pounds, Ferguson showed tremendous potential in limited action as a true freshman last year and will likely find himself shouldering a greater load while Moore gradually regains his strength.
Ferguson will have help, however, as redshirt freshman Paul Baker (Arlington, Texas) and sophomore Martelius Epps (Daingerfield, Texas), a converted defensive back, will look to make an impact this spring. Sophomore transfer Fred Colbert (San Diego, Calif.) should also be a factor in the tailback competition when he joins the program in August.
One of the Lobos' most underrated offensive forces, senior fullback Adrian Byrd (Missouri City, Texas), could also play a bigger role with Moore sidelined. A 6-1, 233-pound battering ram, Byrd has quietly established himself as a key factor in the Lobos' power running game and one of the top fullbacks in the Mountain West. In addition to his duties as a punishing lead blocker, Byrd has also shown real talent with the ball in his hands, giving the Lobos' a multi-dimensional threat in the backfield.
"We think Adrian has a chance to be as good a fullback as there is in our league," Long said. "Now it's up to him to perform at that level, but we think he has the physical ability to be one of the best."
Versatile sophomore Allan Stone (Arlington, Texas) and promising redshirt freshman Matt Quillen (Albuquerque, N.M.) could also work their way into the fullback rotation in the role formerly held by Landrick Brody.
WIDE RECEIVERWhat was an inexperienced group of newcomers and first year starters last fall could be one of the strongest units in the improving New Mexico offense this year. The Lobos return five wide receivers that saw significant action in 2004, including a tremendous talent in senior Hank Baskett (Clovis, N.M.).
Baskett turned in one of the best seasons in UNM history in his first year as a regular starter, ranking ninth on the all-time list with 909 receiving yards on his 54 catches last fall. Boasting an elite combination of size, strength, speed, athleticism and pure hands, Baskett proved to be one of the Mountain West's premier receiving talents last year and he could be even better in 2005. The reigning MWC outdoor high jump champion (6-11.00) and three-time track and field all-conference honoree has decided to focus exclusively on football this spring in preparation for his final campaign.
"He's 6-4, 220 pounds, he runs really well, he jumps really high and most man-cover corners have trouble defending him," Long said. "He also has a size advantage against zone coverage, getting in the holes and being able to take hits while still catching the ball."
While Long said he would like to see similar receiving numbers from Baskett this season, he emphasized that the rest of the wide receiver corps must step up and become greater threats in the passing game. Seniors Anthony Carter (Winslow, Ariz.) and Chris Brawley (Leighton, Ala.) should be much improved with a full year of D-I experience under their belt, while sophomores Marcus Smith (San Diego, Calif.) and Travis Brown (West Covina, Calif.) could also emerge as consistent contributors in their second seasons. Carter and Brawley earned the majority of snaps opposite Baskett last year, but Brown began to emerge as a dependable target late in the season. Meanwhile, Smith, a converted tailback, displayed explosive speed and raw talent in his first full year at receiver.
TIGHT ENDNew Mexico's tight ends should be better as a group this year as well with three solid receiving and blocking threats in senior Logan Hall (Idaho Falls, Idaho), junior Curtis Pino (Albuquerque, N.M.) and redshirt freshman Chris Mark (Las Vegas, Nev.) returning to form the core of the versatile crew. The unit will also get a boost in the form of talented 6-4, 225-pound junior transfer John Mulchrone (Chicago, Ill.).
One of New Mexico's most highly touted additions last spring, Hall was hampered throughout much of 2004 with a myriad of injuries, including chronic pain in his hand after breaking a bone during preseason camp. A big target in the passing game at 6-5, 257 pounds, Hall showed signs of improvement with a solid performance in the Lobos' bowl game. According to Long, injury was the only thing that prevented Hall from being a key member of the offense last season and the coaching staff is hopeful that he will be healthy and productive in 2005. Mulchrone, meanwhile, was an honorable mention All-America selection last year at Palomar College (San Marcos, Calif.) and will join the surprising Pino and promising 6-5, 245-pound Mark to give UNM some excellent depth at the position this season.
OFFENSIVE LINEPerhaps the most celebrated position at New Mexico, the Lobo offensive line group, better known as "The Hitmen," has established itself as one of the most dominant units in the Mountain West Conference. In 2004, two more members of the group secured first team all-conference honors, including unanimous selection Claude Terrell and repeat first team honoree Ryan Cook (Albuquerque, N.M.). Honorable mention pick Robert Turner (Austin, Texas), meanwhile, was the third of the Hitmen recognized by the league's media and coaches.
One of the country's premier centers over the past two years, the 6-7, 316-pound Cook returns as the senior leader of the group after quietly enjoying one of the best seasons by a center in UNM history last fall. He averaged 10 knockdowns per game, while finishing the year with perfect assignment grades in a remarkable four games. A Lombardi Award and Rimington Trophy candidate once again, Cook will make a strong push for All-America honors as well in 2005.
"Ryan has a chance to be an NFL player," Long said. "He's gotten better every year, he's got unbelievable size for as good an athlete as he is and we're expecting an even better performance out of him this year."
After earning Freshman All-America honors in 2003, the underrated Turner led the team in knockdowns the following season, driving his opponent into the turf 137 times in 2004. As he enters his junior season, the 6-4, 328-pound guard has established himself as one of the most intimidating forces in the MWC and, as he polishes the technical aspects of his game, appears to be the next in a long line of standout Lobo offensive linemen.
Senior tackle Terrance Pennington (Compton, Calif.), meanwhile, put together a solid campaign last fall in his first year as a starter. An imposing figure at 6-7, 329 pounds, Pennington displayed good technical skill and assignment understanding last season and could be one of the most improved players on the offensive line in `05. His progression will be a key element in the success of the unit, which will be auditioning for the open quick guard and strong tackle positions throughout the spring and fall.
Depth will be a temporary issue this spring with only nine healthy linemen slated to take part in practice. Seven new Hitmen, however, are set to join the team in August, including 6-4, 316-pound junior college All-American Anthony Kilby (Albuquerque, N.M.). In the meantime, 6-3, 318-pound redshirt junior Bo Greer (Princeton, Ind.), 6-5, 302-pound junior Patrick Hodges (Ruidoso, N.M.) and 6-5, 360-pound redshirt freshman Dustin Moore (Brenham, Texas) will get a valuable opportunity to prove themselves on the field. Greer will open the spring as the starting quick guard, while Hodges will get a shot at tackle. Moore is penciled in as Turner's understudy at strong guard, but could push for a bigger role at quick guard.