STEVENS: Lots to Do in Spring Ball For Coach Locksley and his Lobo Crew
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics  
Release:  03/23/2009
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics

March 23, 2009

Lobo Football
Lobo spring football 2009

You really can't simplify the task ahead of first-year Lobos coach Mike Locksley and his staff of first-year Lobos. It's a new offense, a new defense, a new staff and a whole lot of Lobos that Locksley & Co. don't know much about.

Lots to do? Yeah. Too much to do in 15 practices? Probably, but isn't that why they have fall ball?

"We tried to put it all in my first year at Illinois and we found out that was too much," said Locksley. "The goal is to get about 80 percent of the offense in during the spring. You can add some things after they have a feel for it."

Arguably, the biggest challenge this spring (besides placing names to faces and not just numbers) is implementing Locksley's up-tempo, no-huddle, multi-dimensional offense and figuring out which quarterback is the best at running it. The two top returning candidates are Brad Gruner, who got eight starts after Donovan Porterie went down after four starts.

"I don't think I'll have any trouble with no huddle or up-tempo," said Porterie, who was lost to a knee injury during UNM's fourth game last season. "I'm excited about it and I've been watching a lot of film on Ilinois and Florida." Those two schools were Locksley's last stops before replacing Rocky Long at UNM.

When Locksley went to Florida and Illinois, his first springs were similar to what he faces at UNM. He was at a new school, looking at new faces and putting in a new offense.

"This is the third time I've been part of installing a new system," he said. "It makes it easier because I know the problems we'll face. I know how much to try and install, how fast to go. I'll have more of a feel as to how much the players are taking in and how much to back off."

The Lobos have 15 practice days in the spring. This is the first time Locksley and his staff have been able to take the Lobos out and actually work on football. The pre-spring hours were spent in film rooms and meeting rooms learning things like formations and the language of the no-huddle offense.

The Lobo coaches are looking forward to a little sunshine time, too. "We spent more time looking at LSU and Illinois film because we're teaching each other the offense and the defense we're installing," said Locksley.

The new-look Lobo offense basically is the one Locksley ran at Illinois. He spent much of the pre-spring time making sure all his offensive coaches understand how all the UNM units come together. Locksley said he'll make adjustments based on how the UNM personel adjusts to his scheme.

The Lobo defensive coaches have been getting their full of LSU because that's where Locksley's defensive coordinator, Doug Mallory, coached before coming to UNM. UNM will switch to a 4-3 front in 2009 and abandon the 3-5 front that featured a Lobo back.

Locksley said his staff hasn't looked at much film on the Lobos of 2008. "We aren't that concerned about what they did last year," said Locksley. "We'll use spring ball to make evaluations on their football skills within the framework of what we do on offense and defense."

Mallory probably won't be seeing as much of Locksley as UNM's offensive coordinator Darrell Dickey. "I'm always going to be involved in helping to shape the game plan, but I'll let Darrell call it," said Locksley.

But Locksley said all his coaches will be hearing from the head man. "I'll float around a lot," he said. "I want to make sure I have my hands on just about all of it. I'm a resource. I'll get things put in the way I like it to be put in."

The Lobos return 22 offensive lettermen and eight starters. UNM returns 18 lettermen on defense and only three starters. The Lobos have posted a modest 53-46 mark since the 2001 season, but have gone to five bowl games during that span.

UNM has had a losing record just once in the past eight seasons in conference play. Locksley's first season as a Lobo will be a challenging one as UNM plays Texas A&M, Tulsa and Texas Tech in the first four games.

So, it's pretty important that his Lobos make as many strides as they can in spring drills. Still, Locksley isn't going out to the grass expecting to see a whole lot of spring beauty.

"The first spring is always ugly on offense," said Locksley. "It's new with a different tempo. They are processing things quickly at the line of scrimmage. They have to check plays. There is new terminology. Fall camp will be easier."

Locksley said even though there are Lobos with previous experience there will be no front-runners in camp. "Everyone is starting from scratch with us," he said.

Said Porterie: "It's going to be an exciting camp. I think you always are a bit iffy when a new coaching staff comes in, just because of the change. But this staff has us excited and I think we'll go out there with a good sense of they want us to do."

Editor's note: Richard Stevens is a former Associate Sports Editor and sports columnist for The Albuquerque Tribune. You can reach him at rstevens50@comcast.net. Previous articles are available at The Richard Stevens Corner