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Stevens: Woodford's Army of DBs Battles For Front-Line Status
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics  
Release:  08/11/2011
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics

Aug. 11, 2011

Ruidoso Photo Gallery III

By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com

RUIDODO, N.M. -- You can call it "Woodford's Army," or maybe "Woody's Brigade." Lobo Coach Mike Locksley calls it "three-quarters of the defense."

It's the mass of talented defensive backs - 23, at last count - that follows Coach Mike Woodford around the field like baby ducks shadowing their mother and learning about life.

What Woodford is teaching them is about life as a Lobo defensive back and what's expected, if you want to see some playing time. That playing time won't come easy. This group is fast, talented and full of Lobos motivated to crack the starting lineup.

The ugly ducklings won't make the cut.

"There are no positions locked in and everyone is fighting for positions," said Lobo Anthony Hooks. "Coach has told us as a group that it doesn't matter how much experience we have, he will put the best players on the field."

Said Lobo DeShawn Mills: "The reps are limited, but the competition is making us better. I feel like I'm being pushed and my mission is to come out here and treat every rep like it's my last."

In recruiting for the 2011 season, Locksley made a commitment to improve the athleticism of his defensive secondary and there are a lot of first-year Lobos in that secondary. "We have a number of guys who haven't played at this level, but we recruited them because we believe they can make an immediate impact at this level," said Locksley.

The new faces meant the Lobo season began with the secondary labeled as one of the big question marks on the team. It's beginning to look like that unit might be one of the team's strengths.

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Woodford's Army
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But there is a lot to learn by a whole lot of young and talented Lobos, who need to show their talent will be accented by consistency and good decisions.

The talent part is unquestioned. These DBs are quick, athletic and there are a lot of them.

"I remember when it seemed we had maybe eight defensive backs out here," said Hooks, a senior out of Phoenix. "We got more reps in those days, but I also remember being dead tired some times. It's tougher to get reps now, but when you are out there you are fresh."

That ""fresh stuff might not be an issue during the season. The improved depth on the 2011 Lobos should allow the starting DBs to see less time on special times and they might not get beat up as much in practice. If there is injury, the depth will allow more healing time.

But when Woodford sends his army into the real wars of 2011, he wants his front-line troops on the field.

"I don't like to sub defensive backs, never have," said Woodford, who came to New Mexico by way of Illinois. "If I have four or five defensive backs who are my best players and it's a close game, I want them out there.

"If they are my starters, there is a reason they are out there. If they are getting tired, we need to condition them a little more. But these guys can run all day."

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Woodford's words might heat up the competition level even higher. If he plans to go with his top five most of the time, you don't want to be on the third string. And 23 divided by five means there might be more than a few DBs watching from the sidelines.

"It's going to be tougher to get on the field," said senior A.J. Butler. "The competition level has risen and the lineup could change out here every day.

"We have 23 DBs and we can put a second team out there that's just as good as the first team. But if you want to start you have to come out here and perform and be consistent. If you don't do that, somebody else is ready to take your position."

What Woodford is doing with his army now is evaluating while he teaches. The Lobos season-opening Mountain West tiff with Colorado State isn't that far away - Sept. 3 at University Stadium.

There are decisions to make, positions to be earned.

"We are mixing and matching and there isn't a first team or a second team or a third team right now," said Woodford. "We are throwing them out there in different situation and getting things on tape.

"We'll evaluate and hopefully after the first couple of scrimmages, we can narrow things down and find a first and second group and start getting them to jive a little more."

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