April 15, 2013
By Greg Archuleta
UNM Assistant Director of Communications
Bob Davie is a difficult man to impress, which isn't at all a bad thing.
When the second-year University of New Mexico football coach is asked to assess how far the team has come from the midpoint of spring practice in 2012 to the midpoint of spring practice in 2013, most of his answer is to be expected but includes a twist.
"It's hard to say," Davie says. "Organizationally, tempo-wise, the level of how we compete against each other and x's and o's, it's higher. But it should be higher because there's more familiarity now. How we match up against other teams, I don't know. Hopefully it helps us, but right now I don't know.
"(Former Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz) used to have a saying - W-I-N. That stands for "what's important now. Right now, we don't have to worry about how we match up against other teams. We only have to concern ourselves with how we're competing against each other."
So yes, the Lobos have looked to be a more cohesive group as they have surpassed the halfway point of spring practice than they did last year. What Davie does point out, is perhaps a more spirited attitude than last year's team had during spring.
"Maybe it's an adjective I've overused a little bit so far, but this team is a feisty group," Davie said. "I don't know if it's because we're so young, but that's the attitude we're developing."
Part of that feisty demeanor may be due to the fact that the familiarity between the coaching staff and players has allowed the team to focus more on schemes than it did last year at this time. Last spring, the staff's main goal was establishing an acceptable effort level.
The offense seems to have picked up right where it left off in 2012, when it finished the season with the No. 5 rushing offense in the country. The offensive line has three starters back this spring (a fourth starter from 2012, Garrett Adcock is sitting out as he recovers from shoulder surgery).
The emergence of sophomore guard Johnny Vizcaino has reduced the impact of Adcock's absence, and the Lobos' biggest decision running the ball is figuring out how to establish a depth chart behind senior running back Kasey Carrier.
Davie, however, says the biggest improvement he's seen offensively has been the overall improvement by the quarterback position to throw the football.
The Lobos, who were 119th among 120 Football Subdivision teams with an average of 68.8 passing yards per game, have arms who are more accurate with the football, starting with sophomore Cole Gautsche.
"Anybody who has been out at practice has seen that Cole is improved," Davie said. "In all fairness to the players, last year we didn't implement the passing game right away. We knew we were going to have to run the football."
UNM is relatively inexperienced at tight end and at wide receiver, with five seniors from 2012 departing from those two positions combined. The offense must find new starters at all three wide receiver position as well as the tight end spot.
Senior Andrew Aho, who missed the majority of last season with a knee injury he suffered prior the start of spring practice in 2012, and sophomore Chris Edling are the current leaders in line for playing time at the tight end unit. Senior Matt McBain and redshirt freshman Christian Rebhun also are vying for to get in the mix.
"Maybe it's an adjective I've overused a little bit so far, but this team is a feisty group. I don't know if it's because we're so young, but that's the attitude we're developing."
Bob Davie, Lobo football coach
It was well-documented last spring that UNM had a depth issue on the offensive line, with only eight healthy bodies available. This year, that issue has transferred to the defensive front. But whereas lack of numbers on the offensive line was the concern in 2012, nagging injuries have depleted UNM on the defensive line and at outside linebacker during the current session.
Sophomores Dominic Twitty and Paytron Hightower and senior K.J. Atkins all have missed time on the defensive line. At outside linebacker, senior Rashad Rainey, junior Javarie Johnson and sophomore Richard Winston have been limited because of injuries.
"That's been kind of a concern," Davie said. "We have some young players on the defensive line that need to be out there for their development, and they're not able to be out there. We're trying to make the best of the situation, but it's tough."
UNM has switched junior college transfer Brett Bowers from outside linebacker to defensive end, and senior Jacori Greer is playing on the interior of the line after starting all of last season at end. Defensive line coach Archie McDaniel said Greer's move was made primarily to help with depth concerns. Greer could be back at end by August.
Other players have taken advantage of the increased playing time to make up for the injuries.
Junior outside linebacker "Tevin Newman is one of those that is starting to get it," Davie said. "He's made the most of his opportunity and started to emerge to be a player we can count on."
Redshirt freshman walk-on Kenya Donaldson, a converted defensive back, also has seen increased playing time at the outside linebacker spot.
The improvement in the passing game has translated to improvement in the defensive secondary, Davie said, "because the unit has been exposed to a lot more opportunities to make a play on the ball. Converted junior wide receiver Saqwan Edwards, sophomore Cranston Jones, redshirt freshmen Rashad and Vershad Jackson and junior Tim Foley all have seen their level of play rise, thanks to the continued work in the passing game.
Senior Dante Caro, junior transfer David Guthrie and sophomore Brandon Branch have bolstered the safety positions while junior Jamaal Merritt recovers from an injury. Converted running back David Anaya also is getting valuable reps during spring practice, as is junior Devonta Tabannah.
On special teams, senior kicker Justus Adams and senior punter Ben Skaer have had strong springs, and redshirt freshman Steven Romero needs a little more experience snapping the football, combining speed with accuracy.
As the Lobos enter their final two weeks of spring practice, Davie said he wants his squad to maintain a level of consistency through the finish.
And the impression he wants to have by the end of the April practices is one of step-by-step improvement.
"This time of spring ball is when players have to start fighting through, both physically and mentally," Davie said. "We have to get a little bit better every day, and we cannot waste a practice or a rep."