May 4, 2013
Here are the final two installments of a 10-part series examining the University of New Mexico's position-by-position outlook upon its exit from spring football practice on April 27.
Starters returning: None
Questions coming into camp: With the graduation of B.R. Holbrook, the Lobos lost their top passer from the 2012 group that led UNM to a No. 119 ranking among 120 Football Bowl Subdivision Schools in passing offense at 68.8 yards per game. UNM No. 1 objective for the spring was to find out whether it could create more balance between the run and pass. The No. 2 question was whether Gautsche could be the one to increase the passing production.
What happened during camp: Gautsche showed significant improvement in his accuracy, and he had to. Junior college transfer Mitchem is every bit as good as advertised in the passing game. McCown also showed the results of a strong offseason, and Vega also showed progress because of his familiarity with the system.
"Not having to start from square one is huge plus," offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Bob DeBesse said. "Other than Clayton, they all had a foundation, which is nice. Having some competition was also nice.
"We've shown flashes of what we can do in creating balance. We have not shown the consistency."
Gautsche changed his mechanics a bit, including his grip on the football and his release, and he became a more accurate thrower. He has a more pronounced throwing motion, which helps him get the ball downfield on target. That was evident in a couple of deep balls during UNM's final spring practice. However, Gautsche must continue to work on speeding up his delivery to be more effective on quick passes.
"Everyone thinks of Cole as an experienced quarterback, but really he'd normally just be finishing his first year of college had he not joined us in January last year," DeBesse said. "A lot has been put on his plate, and he's had a lot of scrutiny - especially being a New Mexico kid that everybody knows. I like how he's handled himself."
Mitchem's passing skills were on display the moment spring practice began. The Northeastern Oklahoma A&M transfer was pushing Gautsche for a spot with the first team when he strained a quadriceps muscle during practice No. 11 and missed the final two Saturdays. Those days were heavy team emphasis days.
"It was a setback, no question," DeBesse said, "but more so from a mental standpoint than a physical one. Physically, what we've seen from Clayton, he can do everything we're asking a quarterback to do. But 11 days of practice is not enough to get him comfortable with the system."
McCown started off strong but leveled off a bit as UNM went through the spring.
Coach DeBesse wisdom: "That's one of the hard things about the passing game. Coming from where we're coming from, during the summer it's all on them to improve. It's going to be incumbent on them to have a great summer and then be ready to hit the ground running in August."
Also in camp: Redshirt freshman deep snapper Steven Romero.
Questions coming into camp: The Lobos made significant strides in all facets of special teams in 2012, in comparison to 2011. The big question was whether walk-on Romero could fill in for four-year starting deep snapper Evan Jacobsen. Special teams coach Coleman Hutzler also said he wanted the special teams to find more playmakers across the board.
What happened during camp: Romero showed a lot of progress in his snapping abilities. Devonta Tabannah has started to push Foley at punt returner. Adams' accuracy remained strong, minus a couple of hiccups, and he starting working on improving his distance. Skaer looks ready to build upon his breakout junior season, and the coaching staff is high on Sam Gentry in giving Skaer some competition.
"Steven has come light years from where he was, and he's worked his tail off since last season," Hutzler said. "We're excited about where Steven is right now.
"As far as special teams as a whole, yes, we laid a foundation and established an identity. Now, we need to take that next step and become more consistent across the board."
Despite the experience Hutzler has returning at several of the positions, he says no jobs are guaranteed and is looking forward to seeing what improvements his specialists make in the summer to give him an idea of what he has to work with when the team reconvenes in August.
"Really, there's not a lot of work to be done with the separate teams with the specialists when they're on their own," Hutzler said. "But coach Hilgart has them go through a lot of agility drills that will help them this summer. They need to focus on getting bigger, stronger and faster and get ready for the fall."
Coach Hutzler wisdom: "Evan (Jacobsen) has been unbelievable in helping Steven with the deep snapping. I can't pretend to know all the ins and outs of long snapping, but to have who I believe is the best snapper in the country here to tutor and mentor a redshirt freshman kid is awesome."