April 24, 2013
New Mexico Lobos Football --- 2013 Spring Ball
Spring Ball Wrap Up: GoLobos.com will be wrapping up the final week of New Mexico football's spring ball with a three-part series.
Today: Bob DeBesse on the offense
Friday: Jeff Mills on the defense
Sunday: Bob Davie's overview
By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
The Lobos can run it. That's a given. The Lobos cranked out their Pistol-based option to the tune of 301.3 rushing yards per game in 2012 and the core of that dynamic attack is back - in the backfield, on the offensive line.
But already you can see questions forming in spring ball that the Lobos' coaching staff will be trying to answer come fall.
Here are two major questions to chew on:
1. Can the Lobos throw it?
2. Who is going to catch it?
The thrower from 2012 - B.R. Holbrook - is gone and Holbrook didn't exactly set any passing records (64.7 a game) at UNM behind an offense that was mostly pulled out of the "three yards and a cloud of dust" playbook.
But Bob DeBesse, New Mexico's offensive coordinator and quarterbacks' coach, says that run-based philosophy has to be adapted.
"It's a fair statement (that we can run)," said DeBesse. "Obviously, we can't survive with just a running game like we tried to do a year ago.
"We can't survive with that high a percentage of running the ball. People will have studied us more and have a better plan against our option. We have to put the ball in the air."
The Lobos took to their spring drills taking a hard look at four quarterbacks: Cole Gautsche, Quinton McCown, Clayton Mitchem and David Vega. There will be more looking come fall ball and two freshmen QBs will join the battle.
There was an emphasis in the passing game this spring as UNM looks to improve (almost add) that attack. New Mexico needs to find both the arms and the good hands.
A promising addition to the huddle comes from JC transfer Clayton Mitchem, a dynamic athlete who is living up to his billing as a dual-threat quarterback. Mitchem has quick, fast feet. He also can throw it. He is not as bullish on his runs as Gautsche, who had 760 rushing yards in 2012, but Mitchem is elusive.
DeBesse isn't yet ready to call this a two-horse race for the huddle and McCown provides a nice balance of running and passing. But the Gautsche/Mitchem combination is a possibility to replace the Gautsche/Holbrook package of 2012. We'll see.
"Cole has the upper hand on everyone with a year's experience," said DeBesse. "I'm sure Cole would be focused, driven regardless of who is pushing him. If Clayton continues on his learning path, his growth path, he'll see the field. He looks good and he can do the things we are asking from our quarterback in running and passing.
"You could see a situation where both see playing time, but this is April and Clayton still has a ways to go in learning our offense."
The passing game this spring has shown flashes of efficiency - against a young secondary. There has been improvement in the ball coming out of hands, but DeBesse is still evaluating the hands gathering in those passes. UNM lost Lucas Reed, Quintell Solomon, Ty Kirk, Chris Biren and Lamaar Thomas from 2012.
"We have a lot of youth at receiver," said DeBesse. "We have a long ways to go at that position. At the scrimmage on Saturday, that was our best day - lining up. That's where we're at. We didn't expect to be where we wanted to be at the end of spring ball but we have seen flashes. We need to keep taking steps forward.
"We've enhanced our chances to throw the ball, but we are still trying to find consistent targets."
A number of young receivers have looked good in spring ball including Marquis Bundy, Jeric Magnant, Carlos Wiggins, Chase Clayton, Ridge Jones and Cameron DeBesse. UNM's search to fill the hole at tight end also is an important one especially since that position also is a blocking spot for UNM's option.
"I will say we were a little taken back by our inexperience at tight end," said DeBesse. "Even though Andrew Aho is a senior, he hasn't gotten a lot of reps there. In experience, he's young. So we are replacing two seniors (Reed, Biren) with youth.
"We just have a lot of guys who need to improve in all practices leading up to our first game. They need to get to the point where they feel good about themselves and confident in what they are doing.
"The competition is good for everybody. Just look at the running back position. That might be our deepest position and there is really good competition that has pushed them all to a higher level."
Kasey Carrier is the Lobo to beat in the backfield with his 1,469 yards and 122.4 per game from 2012. But UNM also returns Jhurell Pressley and Crusoe Gongbay to the backfield. Xavier Madrid, a junior out of St. Pius X, also has looked good this spring hitting holes with an explosive first step.
In a simplified nutshell, spring ball has revealed these things:
1. A lot of talent and depth in the backfield.
2. Some talented quarterbacks who can run, but who need to improve in the air.
3. An offensive line that is experienced and confident, but needs the depth expected from two JC linemen, who join the roster this fall.
4. A receiving and tight end group that might not be a weakness, but needs to prove themselves to be a strength.
"I'm happy with the areas we knew would be solid," said DeBesse. "Now we have to add some things. Now, we have to get better."
Editor's Note: Richard Stevens is a former award-winning Sports Columnist and Associate Sports Editor at The Albuquerque Tribune. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.