March 28, 2009
By Alfredo V. Moreno - UNM Assistant Media Relations Director
UPDATE - Spring was in the air this morning at the University of New Mexico practice fields. After a blustery Thursday workout the sun was shining and hits were jarring as the Lobos went through their first full pads practice of the spring.
First year head coach Mike Locksley said afterward that he thought the pace of the practice was good and he was also pleased about how well the offense took care of the ball after several turnovers on Thursday. Locksley said the installation of the offense will continue each day as the team builds toward its first scrimmage situation on Wednesday afternoon.
The coaches set the tone of the practice early, lining up six alleys on each field for the hard-hitting "Oklahoma Drill". The simple, yet effective drill consists of a defender attempting to defeat a block and bring down a ball carrier in a three-foot wide alley.
Oohs and ahhs buzzed around both fields as the offensive and defensive players traded blows. The main events featured junior transfer defensive tackle Peter Gardner taking on senior center Erik Cook and sophomore defensive end Jaymar Latchison squaring off against sophomore offensive tackle Byron Bell. Neither defender was able to stop the running back, but the hole only opened for a split second as both Gardner and Latchison held their ground.
Afterward, media relations student assistants Dave Lepre and Christa Martinez went inside the trenches. Lepre talked with offensive line coaches Mike Degory (centers/guards) and Cheston Blackshear (tackles/tight ends) and took a closer look at how the split coaching duties will benefit The Hitmen in 2009. Martinez, meanwhile, sat down with defensive line coach Rubin Carter to talk about the former Denver Bronco great's wide-ranging career as a player and coach.
Here are some of my observations from day three of the 2009 Lobo spring football season:
Defensive Tackles Rise Up - As New Mexico makes the transition from a 3-3-5 to a 4-3 alignment on defense, a lot of eyes will be on the men up front...the early signs are that the Lobos have at least two powerful forces inside in senior Kendall Briscoe and junior transfer Peter Garnder...both men enjoyed a strong practice this morning, excelling in the one-on-one pass rush drills against the UNM offensive line...Briscoe capped the drill by ripping past an offensive guard and celebrating with a sack dance.
The Hitmen Strike Back - It wasn't all defensive line today as senior center Erik Cook showed his all-conference ability during a stretch of one-on-one drills...sophomore tackle Byron Bell's punishing pancake block during one session would have had The Red Menace breaking out their famous "Got Syrup?" sign...junior guard Derek Tallent also showed good improvement with a string of solid one-on-one performances.
Receiving Options Out Of The Backfield - Rodney Ferguson led the Lobo running backs last year with 14 receptions, but after three days of practice I'm predicting that number will almost seem laughable in 2009...in Mike Locksley and coordinator Darrell Dickey's new spread offense, the running backs look like they will be threats to catch the ball out of the backfield on every play...they work on their release into the flats during individual drills and during "thud" (moderate contact) scrimmage drills and seven-on-seven action, the RBs are legitimate threats to catch the ball...burly sophomore James Wright - not known for his pass catching ability - made an excellent one-handed grab out of the backfield in the final team scrimmage drill today.
Gruner Keepers - Sophomore Brad Gruner has shown good improvement in his passing touch early this spring, but he hasn't abandoned what made him a threat in 2008...twice during the team's final "thud" scrimmage drill at the end of practice Gruner kept the ball on read option plays and broke free down the right sideline for long gains...it's his ability as a runner and skill reading the option that makes Gruner one of the Lobos' top contenders for the starting quarterback job this fall.