May 3, 2013
Here are parts VII and VIII 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
Also in camp: Redshirt freshman Ridge Jones, sophomore Carlos Wiggins, junior Chase Clayton, redshirt freshman Michael Calzada, redshirt freshman John Russo, redshirt freshman Eric Stabile, sophomore Marquis Bundy, sophomore Cameron DeBesse, redshirt freshman Michael Walsh, junior wide receiver Jeric Magnant.
Questions coming into camp: Much like with the running backs, the wide receiver corps had to adjust to a new position coach with ex-Nevada assistant Scott Baumgartner taking over. Well-versed in the pistol offense, Baumgartner wanted to see how much football knowledge and work ethic his young group had. The Lobos have to replace all three starters from 2012, and the players were starting basically with a clean slate.
What happened during camp: Nothing flashy, but just a solid spring from the group. Magnant, who has the most experience of the receivers, assumed a leadership role through his play and work ethic. Wiggins and Bundy showed signs of being playmakers for the team, and converted running back Clayton had started to adjust to the transition before a minor injury sidelined him for the last few practice sessions. Jones, a redshirt freshman, also displayed some playmaking skills.
"You never really know what you're walking into when you go to a new place," Baumgartner said. "You want to determine their football IQ, and just being such a young group, you want to see their maturity level in terms of what you need to get done in spring practice.
"They're a good group, they work hard and want to be coached," Baumgartner said. "The football IQ still needs to get better, but they're gaining on it, doing a pretty nice job."
UNM wants to be more balanced on offense this season, and much has been said about the improvement at quarterback in the passing game. The other side of the equation is the wide receivers' ability to catch the ball.
"No doubt, we have the ability to thrown the ball a little bit better," Baumgartner said. "As good as this (WR) group can get will dictate how we throw it or how much more we throw it."
Coach Baumgartner wisdom: "Summer's real big for the whole group. They need to be in the weight room, lifting hard. They need to be running around catching footballs in the summertime with the quarterbacks. They need to stay on that train of keeping the progression going and making football important as a group. One getting better means all of them getting better."
Starters returning: None.
Also in camp: Sophomore Rashad Jackson, sophomore Vershad Jackson, junior David Guthrie, redshirt freshman Ryan Santos, junior Tim Foley, junior Saqwan Edwards, junior Devonta Tabannah, junior Jamal Merritt (no contact during spring because of a knee injury), sophomore Cranston Jones, senior Dante Caro, sophomore Brandon Branch, sophomore David Anaya, sophomore Darien Brunson.
Questions coming into camp: The Lobos had to start over in the defensive backfield after losing all four starters in 2012 to graduation. But the real concern was that the unit overall gave up too many big plays. Could a younger secondary play tighter coverage without getting beaten over the top?
What happened during camp: The coaching staff simplified things to make sure the players could fly around the football without having to think first about what they're supposed to do.
"So much about defense is attitude, lining up, run to the ball and hit," defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach Jeff Mills said. "That's what separates good defense from the others. In the last week of practice, we made strides on playing fast, playing with an attitude and playing with physicality."The simplification of the defense also helped integrate converted Edwards from wide receiver to cornerback and Anaya from running back to safety. It also allowed Guthire, a junior college transfer, to make the transition a bit smoother coming to UNM.
Guthrie will try to fit in with a rotation of Anaya, Caro, Branch and Tabannah at the safety positions. Merritt, who was relegated to learning the playbook and video study, should add to the position when he returns in the fall.
Mills was pleased with the conversion of Edwards, who played with the first-team defense nearly throughout the entire spring. Competition is starting to heat up among the Jackson brothers and the veteran Foley for playing time at cornerback.
"I think in all areas, we improved on those things," Mills said. "I'm not saying we're there - we've got a lot of work to do - but the concepts and understanding of defending the run, eliminating long runs, defending the pass with better, tighter coverage, I think those areas were a focal point and I think they improved."
Coach Mills wisdom: "Compared to a year ago, I think we're light years ahead as far as being able to line up and have a base defense in place. We really didn't know what we had a year ago, and we had a hard time because of (lack of) depth in our program. We got a multitude of reps this spring; it's not even close to last spring. There's more of a foundation going into the fall."