April 1, 2010
By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
If you happen to catch Rubin Carter, New Mexico's defensive line coach, wiping a bit of drool off the corner of his mouth during UNM's spring ball, well, who could blame him.
Heck, Carter might even be looking at all the talent surrounding him over at UNM and be thinking that he's back with the Denver Broncos and smack in the middle of all that "Orange Crush" talent.
OK, that's a slight exaggeration, but maybe not an exaggeration at all if you rate the talent on the Lobos' D-Line with other units around the Mountain West Conference.
Carter's Crushers stack up well. There is depth. There is speed on the corners. There is size inside. There is experience and leadership.
And there is even more talent on the way come fall ball.
"We needed some size and we got it," said Carter, who played 12 NFL seasons with Denver. "But we still have speed and the big guys have speed, too.
"We have a chance to be a pretty good front and that's important because I tell the guys it all starts with us. It starts up front."
It's tough to decide whether to talk up the returning Lobos first or move to the influx of talent that Carter gets to work with in Year Two of the Mike Longley regime at UNM.
Let's start with the veterans. The Lobos return three of four starters: Johnathan Rainey, Jaymar Latchison and Peter Gardner. If Carter only had these three linemen, he might still be caught drooling. These guys are good.
Rainey (out for spring ball with shoulder injury) grew to be one of the more feared defensive ends in the MWC. The All-MWC Second Team DE's cat-like quickness on the corner of the line was simply too much for the average MWC O-lineman.
Latchison is a nice blend of power and quickness. The 6-foot-3 junior says he likes what he sees on the 2010 D-line.
"We're expecting the line to be better," said Latchison. "We are bigger, stronger, but we're still quick, and we have some established leaders who know what is expected of them."
Gardner is one of those leaders. He started all 12 games in 2009 in his first season as a Lobo and got better with each game. He says he also expects the D-line to be better in 2010.
"I think we are going to be way, way better," he said. "We have experience, speed and some new big guys. We should be a very physical line."
Gardner, well, all returning Lobos, know what it's like to go through spring ball under a new system and a new coaching staff. Spring ball in 2009 was as much a greet-and-meet as it was football.
"It's so much easier this year," said Gardner. "Last year I was learning so much and going out to practice trying to remember things. I have it down this spring. I just go full out."
Two Lobos -- Ugo Uzodinma and Reggie Ellis -- are in their first active season at UNM. They transferred from Illinois. Here is some of that size Carter is talking about. Uzodinma is 6-4, 260 pounds. Ellis is 6-2, 285 pounds. These big Lobos are not slow. But they have some things to learn.
"They have the strength. They have the attitude and the talent. They just have to learn a few things," said Latchison. "We are helping them along, keeping them motivated and focused.
"They know the plays. You can just see them thinking too much. Coach calls it, 'thinking on the run.'"
Said Uzodinma: "It's a brand new system for me, but it's getting better and better each day for me. A lot of it is just learning the terminology."
The Lobos also return Junior Brett Kennedy and sophomore Ahraya Crespin to provide depth at the defensive tackle spots. Coach Carter also has to be excited about the fall additions of Calvin Smith and J.J. Hugine. Hugine is 6-3, 236 pounds and should add speed to the corners. Smith, 6-3, 265-pounds, was one of the more highly recruited linemen in the nation.
UNM's fall ball is going to be a war of talent battling for Carter's favor. The Lobo coach expects to be throwing a lot of Lobos into the action.
"We should have the depth to sub quite a bit, keep fresh guys in there," said Carter. "We will throw offenses off balance with different types of players coming in and coming in fresh."
Editor's Note: Richard Stevens is a former Associate Sports Editor and sports columnist for The Albuquerque Tribune. You can reach him at email@example.com.