Stevens: Coach Mallory Looking to Sharpen A Few Defensive Claws
April 13, 2010
By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
In the Lobos' spring movement to better understand the Xs and Os of the 4-3 front, Doug Mallory's defenders are getting a big taste of some Ts.
Of course, those are just a few of the points of emphasis this spring for the University of New Mexico defenders. UNM's defensive coordinator will take improvement anywhere and everywhere he can get it. In fact, he demands it.
But like the offense, Mallory's defenders have a few arrows that need to be sharpened.
"We needed to improve our familiarity with the scheme (4-3)," said Mallory. "The improvement there is almost natural because this is the second year in the system. Things are going at a quicker pace than a year ago."
One of the basic concepts of any defense is to get to the ball. Then you need a finish. Mallory said he wasn't always pleased with the "finish" in 2009.
"I didn't feel we tackled well last year," he said. "We should be in better positions to make plays this year, but once you get there, you have to get them to the ground."
The tackling part should impact some of the other Ts that Mallory is emphasizing this spring.
He wants his defense to create more turnovers. He wants more third-down efficiency -- forcing offenses into fourth-and-punt situations. He wants his Lobos to become mean, mother bears when the opposition is the red zone and threatening the Lobo end zone.
UNM's defense was eighth (51.4 percent) out of nine Mountain West teams in third-down efficiency in 2009 league games. A defense wants to be at least in the 30 percent range. TCU, a monster defense, led the league at 25 percent in 2009.
The Lobos were last in scoring defense (34.8) despite being No. 6 in total defense (403) and No. 5 in run defense (178). This is why Mallory is emphasizing toughness -- and tackling -- in the red zone. The Lobos were outscored by more than 19 points per game in their 12 games in 2009.
Simply put, the UNM offense needs to score more, the UNM defense needs to allow fewer points. The scoreboard determines winners and losers, but all that technical stuff, the "T" stuff, eventually effects the scoreboard.
"To be fair to the kids, they were looking at a whole new system (4-3) last year," said Mallory. "They had been in a three-down defense here for 11 years. But I expect to see a lot of improvement in Year Two."
Like the Lobo offense, Mallory's defenders are emphasizing physicality up front. "Our No. 1 goal this spring is to stop the run," he said. "Our offense is featuring the run game this spring so that helps us with our goal.
"We need to force offenses to be one dimensional. You do that by stopping the run. The offense is running the ball a lot better. That forces us to get better there. Both the offense and the defense have a similar issues."
The first part of a defense asked to stop the run is the defensive line. Going into spring ball, that front was considered one of the strengths of the defense behind veterans Johnathan Rainey, Jaymar Latchison and Peter Gardner.
There is solid depth in Illinois transfers Ugo Uzodinma and Reggie Ellis and Lobo returnees Brett Kennedy, Seth Johannemann and Ahraya Crespin. UNM also could be looking at some instant help from freshmen Calvin Smith (6-3, 265) and J.J. Hugine (6-3, 236). That's a lot of bodies and a lot of talent.
"Our line is a strong point in our defense and that's where a defense starts," said Mallory. "If you can't defend against the run up front, you aren't going to make a team one dimensional."
The Lobos' run support behind that D-line should be exceptional, too. Junior-to-be Carmen Messina is one of the top linebackers in the nation and led the NCAA in tackles in 2009. Joe Stoner is using a solid spring in an attempt to lock down a starting job next to Messina.
"We have good experience at the LB spot," said Mallory. "You start with Carmen Messina. He is picking up where he left off, but he has a better feel of what we are asking him to do. He is very productive in the running game, has a nose for the ball, and his footwork has gotten a lot better.
"And we've been really pleased with Joe Stoner. He is more active, more productive."
Mallory said a number of Lobos are fighting for the third LB spot, when UNM is in a three-backer defense, including Spencer Merritt, Terel Anyaibe and Cody Neely. Mallory will be looking at two talented freshmen linebackers this fall in Toby Ball and Zach Daugherty.
But in the pass-happy Mountain West, the Lobos often will be in a "nickel" defense. This is a 4-2-5 look designed to provide defensive backfield help on offenses lining up with four wide receivers.
The development of the Lobos' secondary obviously is a key for Mallory this spring and in the fall. It is a talented group, but it is full of youth and inexperience.
"At the safety spot, we are thin," said Mallory. "We need some kids to step up. We'll be taking a hard look at some of the freshmen coming in. We need to create some depth and competition."
The Lobos moved two talented Lobos from offense to defense in order to shore up that defensive backfield. A.J. Butler, a versatile running back, and Carmeiris Stewart, a fleet receiver, are now chasing receivers and delivering tackles.
"Those are two tough kids and they are coming along, tackling pretty well," said Mallory. "They are adding competition and they both have a chance to play."
UNM lost Ian Clark, Frankie Solomon and Frankie Baca to graduation. The Lobos return Anthony Hooks, an All-MWC candidate, to provide leadership. UNM also has promising DBs in Emmanuel McPhearson, Nathan Enriquez, DeShawn Mills, Bubba Forrest, Dante Caro, Brian Hill and Freddy Young.
The freshmen coming Mallory's way are Julian Blair, Ravonne Carter, James Grace, Devonta Tabannah and the multi-purpose Detchauz Wray.
"We got some work to do back there," said Mallory. "But we're out there to improve in every area. We're always looking for guys to step up."
Editor's Note: Richard Stevens is a former Associate Sports Editor and sports columnist for The Albuquerque Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.