March 28, 2009
By Dave Lepre -- UNM Media Relations Assistant
Traditionally, college football coaching staffs have a coach each for the offensive line and tight ends. The tackles, guards and centers learn under one while the tight ends have a coach of their very own. The University of New Mexico's football program has followed this model for decades.
Not any more.
First year head coach Mike Locksley has broken his offensive line duties down such that two coaches are tending to the Lobos' o-line. Both are young, up-and-coming coaches with bright futures. Both, not so coincidentally, have ties to the University of Florida - one of Locksley's former coaching stops - and deep ties to the spread offense Locksley brings to UNM.
While some may think there is a chance one coach will step on the other's toes when it comes to teaching technique or when explaining the subtleties of, say, installing a run play or pass-blocking footwork, according to both Cheston Blackshear and Mike Degory, at UNM that couldn't be further from the truth.
Blackshear is coaching the tackles and tight ends for UNM. Degory mentors the guards and center. Both played on the Gators' offensive line during their college careers.
Blackshear's a four-year letterman who manned one of Florida's guard spots from 1995-99, playing for a national championship in 1996 and earning second-team all-SEC honors his senior year. Degory was the starting center at Florida for four years, from 2001-05. He played in Locksley's offense for two years as a Gator while in the process of starting a school-record 50 games.
So when Degory says that he and Blackshear come from the same school of thought when it comes to offensive line play, it's easy to believe.
"You can say it's unique," said Blackshear of the split duties on the offensive line. "But when I was playing college ball my last year I had the same situation, except our o-line coach worked with nothing but the tackles. I had a coach working with just the three of us inside and I thought that was a great way to teach the positions. I built a great relationship with him and he helped me out tremendously. Hopefully we can do the same thing here."
"We both come from the same school of thought when it comes to this offense," said Degory after Saturday's scrimmage. "Anywhere from drills to the finer points of what we do offensively. Chester and I have known each other a long time and been friends a long time. We know what to expect from each other and we know that in each of our (meeting) rooms we're saying the same things.
"Coach Blackshear is in there (during the scrimmage) coaching the guards just like I'm coaching the tackles at times. It all meshes together. The players have all got to be on the same page and so do we."
"There are times when I'm working with the special team's unit and coach Degory is working with all of the offensive linemen," said Blackshear. "There are places where some coaches wouldn't want anyone talking to another coach except them. Here, I know were all on the same page. Coach Degory is such a smart individual. They're in as good of hands as anybody when they're with him. I'm sure he feels the same way. We've both seen this offense develop from back where it was years ago to where it is now. There's been a lot of evolution in this offense and we've both been a part of it."
Both Blackshear and Degory have plenty of experience coaching and playing in the offense they're now teaching, but seem to have different very personalities when imparting their lessons - at least after three practices. Degory keeps his individual group in tight proximity and speaks to them in a conversational manner. Blackshear seems to prefer the more demonstrative approach.
"I'm passionate about playing offensive line," said Blackshear. "I'm passionate about the guys that I coach. I love those guys to death already. I think an offensive lineman is a unique individual. You don't get a lot of pats on the back and you don't get a lot of accolades. I try to do both. These guys know I'm demanding, but I like to have fun too. There are a lot of people that would think that I'm the quietest guy they know. But when I'm on the football field, I like to just let it loose out there."
Degory, while not having displayed it in the three practices open to the public, feels he's just as vocal. "Both of our personalities are very similar," said Degory. "We coach very similar. I get into the guys too and I know Cheston can be very calm at times. We mesh well.
"Besides, I seem to always loose my voice too," Degory kidded.
Unique to Degory's individual drills for the interior three lineman positions is a drill involving his guards and centers quickly hopping on one foot back and forth between two prone bags.
"That's a foot speed thing," said Degory. "Myself and one of my mentors in this business came up with it. It's a good way to kind of set the tempo of your individual period and also it's used to evaluate foot quickness."
As to the style of blocking the Lobos will implement this fall, UNM is switching to predominantly a zone-blocking scheme. It goes hand-in-hand with the new spread-style offense Locksley is installing.
"We're going to be able to move the football," said Degory. "All the stuff we did at Illinois is coming out here. There we were typically a zone-read team, but we're going to have to evaluate what we can do offensively and make the adjustments we need to."