By Richard Stevens – Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
There is a sound coming from the New Mexico Lobos' spring drills at a frequency and intensity that seems somewhat strange and out of place for this time of the Lobos’ year.
It’s the sound of football pads cracking with the snap, crackle and pop that comes with full contact. It’s a sound that rips the Lobo practice fields over and over and over again.
Lobo Coach Bob Davie puts the noise into perspective by saying his Lobos in just one practice session this spring have hit at full speed, full contact more “than we did in the first two spring practices (in 2012 and 2013) combined.”
That’s a lot of hitting and a lot of noise. It’s also sound that first-year Lobo defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove probably needs to hear if he plans to change the culture of the Lobo defense by adding a mean streak of get-to-the-ball urgency to a unit that needs to change.
Simply put, it’s difficult to play ornery if you can’t practice ornery. It’s also difficult to be a mean, mother bear of a tackler in a game, if you don’t practice tackling at full speed in practice.
“For us, that’s what we have to do,” said Davie. “It’s like that bull fighter -- at some point you better fight that live bull. You can play with the horns on the stick all you want, but you had better put that live bull in there.
“What we have to do is simulate (game conditions) as much as we can, not sugarcoat things. We’ve got to put the ball down and go, see what happens. Fortunately, we have our defense built up to the degree where we can do that. This is a unique journey, a unique process. It’s taking us a couple of years to even practice like you’re supposed to practice.”
Which means hit people. Hard.
Said Cosgrove, who took over the coordinating duties after two seasons of coaching inside linebackers for Davie: “We are looking to be more aggressive, more attacking."
Cosgrove replaces Jeff Mills as UNM’s D-coordinator. Cosgrove has an edge, an intensity as he walks the New Mexico practice drills with a coiled vibe similar to what you might feel prior to lightning striking.
If he hadn’t decided to become a football coach 33 years ago you could easily envision him as a drill instructor teaching marines how to win a war. If you saw Cosgrove storming a hill, you probably would run the other way – or surrender.
But can he turn around a defense that pretty much has been getting drilled for two seasons? The change in intensity is a good move. But does Cosgrove have the right Lobo bodies and enough Lobo bodies?
“I think you can see coach Cosgrove’s personality and our defensive coaches’ personality start to show in the way our defense carries itself,” said Davie. “I think it’s probably the most emotion we’ve shown on defense since I’ve been here.
“That doesn’t mean we’re the ‘Steel Curtain,’ the Pittsburgh Steelers’ great defense of the late 70s, but there is some personality, some competitiveness.”
For sure, Cosgrove has a defensive pedigree. He had those 33 years on the defensive side of the football which includes 17 years as a coordinator – including stints at Minnesota, Wisconsin and Nebraska. He has coached in 16 bowl games including four in the Rose Bowl.
But Cosgrove’s defense of 2014 faces some challenges. The Lobos’ defense in 2012 gave up 444.2 yards per game. It gave up 516.6 yards per game in 2013’s 3-9 season. Cosgrove returns six starters and a whole lot of young Lobos, who also saw quality playing time last year.
He said the defensive scheme will have a 3-4 look with the ability to move into multiple-look fronts depending on how the offense lines up. He wants to pressure the football.
Cosgrove will have a few good men to add to his side of the football. The Lobos signed seven transfer destined for the defensive side of the football including two JC linebackers and three defensive tackles. UNM signed another 15 defenders out of high school – four defensive backs, six defensive linemen and five linebackers.
These Lobos appear to be a step up in talent and size, but there is a factor that UNM still must adjust to: these are young, first-year Lobos. Cosgrove must “coach them up,” in both technique and attitude.
“It all comes down to technique and toughness and getting our guys to running to the football,” he said.
Most of those first-year Lobos are still on the way, but already Davie likes the improvement he sees in spring drills.
“It’s probably the most competitive our defense has been against our offense since we’ve been here,” said Davie. “So, it’s a start. That’s really the goal of this spring. To see some personality, some maturity and some real fight. I think we’ve seen the first sign of that on defense. I’m pleased with that part of it.”
Davie also has to be pleased with the sound he is hearing this springtime – that snap, crackle and pop. It’s the sound of football.