Stevens: New Mexico Football 2013 Spring Preview

March 25, 2013

New Mexico Lobos Football --- 2013 Spring Ball

Spring Schedule: 15 practices from Tuesday, March 26 to Saturday, April 27
Lobo Lettermen: Offense - 24 back, 7 lost. Defense - 23 back, 12 lost
Lobo Starters: Offense - 5 back, 6 lost. Defense - 3 back, 7 lost.
Starters Back (7 or more starts): Offense -- Kasey Carrier (RB), Dillon Farrell (C), Garrett Adcock (OG), LaMar Bratton (OG), Darryl Johnson (OT). Defense - Jacori Greer (DE), Dallas Bollema (LB), Rashad Rainey (LB
Special Team Starters Back: Ben Skaer (punter), Justus Adams (kicker)

By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/GoLobos.com

It's not that University of New Mexico football coach Bob Davie dragged himself out to spring practice a year ago. Davie was excited to be back in the saddle as a head man. He was excited to be a Lobo and there were huge challenges to conquer. Competitors like challenges. Davie had one - a big one.

But in the spring of 2012 Davie was walking toward an unconfident team of Lobos pulling themselves out of three years of misery, and it was his job to do some miraculous juggling of pieces and quickly build a foundation with a new culture.

There was much to change and it wasn't going to be easy. It also fair to say that more than a few observers of Lobo ball weren't sure it was possible. The Lobos were in a major hole. It was a pivotal time for Lobo football.

"In some ways, it's a little frightening to think back a year ago on what we were dealing with compared to now," said Davie looking toward the spring of 2013. "But just because you are more familiar with a lot of things, that doesn't solve all the issues."

Yes, there are still steps to be made with the Lobos of 2013. It begins Tuesday on the Lobo practice fields. New Mexico has scheduled 15 practice sessions ending Saturday, April 27.

Davie and his staff will go into spring ball with 24 returning lettermen on offense and 23 on defense. He has 18 seniors, 22 juniors, 34 sophomores and 16 freshmen.

There will be no Cherry & Silver Spring Game, but there will be hitting on the spring practice fields. "There is only one way to play this game and that's to be physical," says Davie.

Davie, his staff and his Lobos didn't solve all the issues in 2012, but there were huge steps forward in this program. They changed a culture and a psyche of a team. They became competitive. They won games.

Davie says this spring his Lobos and his staff are working from a higher level on the evolution of his program.

"The level of the things we talk about is so much higher now," said Davie. "A year ago we were trying to implement enough things just to go out and play a game and try to be competitive in that game.

"Now, we are thinking about how we can win games. It's a major, major change."

The face of the Lobos of 2013 will undergo a major change, too. Davie lost 23 seniors and a lot of production - and leadership - from 2012. Those seniors are only being replaced in part by the juniors of 2012. The majority of the UNM roster in 2013 will be sophomores and freshmen.

"Our numbers' situation is still unique," said Davie. "We are still battling the roster piece. We are in our second year, but our scholarship numbers are low.

"Now, the depth problem is because we are young and playing a lot of freshmen and sophomores. When we start up in the fall, we will have 50 first- and second-year (scholarship) players on the team and 28 third, fourth or fifth-year players.

"We are more comfortable with where we are at and there is more familiarity from both players and coaches. But we still have an issue with numbers. We are at the bottom of the list of teams with returning starters. We are a young team."

The spring of 2012 included the expected teaching, the mandatory X's and O's, but there also was a major shift in schemes. UNM changed to a 3-4 defense and moved to a "pistol" offense that leaned heavily on its option chamber. The Lobos made dramatic improvements in almost every aspect of the game especially in rushing, time of possession, improved point differential and special teams.

Davie again seeks improvement across the boards, but this spring he will focus on several areas including: 1- the defensive secondary; 2- the defensive line, 3- the quarterbacks. "It's obvious that we have to improve what is happening with the ball in the air," said Davie. "That's our offense throwing the ball and on defense when we are defending the pass. That's the No. 1 thing we have to improve.

"We spent minimal time on that a year ago because we knew we had to be a running team to find success. We were implementing option football so our defense was going against option and there wasn't much time spent with the ball in the air. That's a priority this spring.

"We have a lot of talent on the defensive line, but we're going with a lot of young players and we need that position to grow quickly."

The Lobos lost senior quarterback B.R. Holbrook to graduation but return sophomore-to-be Cole Gautsche and junior-to-be Quinton McCown, who were listed No. 1 and No. 2 respectively on UNM's last two-deep chart. UNM loses some talented receivers - Lucas Reed, Quintell Solomon, Ty Kirk, Chris Biren and Lamaar Thomas - but passing was not a forte in 2012.

The Lobos only lose one starting lineman (Korian Chambers) and return nine O-line players that were on the final two-man depth chart of 2012. The backfield returns its top three runners: Kasey Carrier (1,469 yards), Jhurell Pressley (462) and Gautsche (760).

There is no reason not to expect the UNM option that averaged 301.3 yards a game in 2012 to again run to the top of the nation stats. But Davie does not want to be as one dimensional in 2013. UNM is bringing in two freshmen quarterback, but also JC transfer Clayton Mitchem from Northeastern Oklahoma A&M, who should be higher up on the depth chart.

"We have to prioritize the quarterback position. We have to come more productive throwing the football," said Davie.

The Lobos' brand on offense in 2012 came from running the football. That brand is established heading toward the 2013 season, but Davie says his Lobos need to add another chamber to its pistol.

"Our opponents, particular in this conference, are familiar with what we want to do and we aren't going to go out there and surprise anybody," he said. "We have to get better. We have to add things. We established an identity on offense last year, and now we need to throw the ball with more efficiency. We still have so much room for improvement."

Another obvious area that needs improvement is the defensive side. The Lobos gave up 30.2 points per game and 442.2 total yards per game. The Lobos averaged 25.8 points and 370.2 total yards on offense.

When you give up more points and more yards than you create, you end on the wrong side of the scoreboard. The Lobos allowed 269.2 yards passing per game.

"We are retooling our defense. We are tweaking that scheme," said Davie. "It's not a total change in scheme, a change in X's and O's, it's more a change in style of play, an attitude. The defense is behind the offense and behind the special teams and we have to go out and establish an identity on that side of the ball."

UNM returns its kickoff and punt return folks plus its punter, Ben Skaer, and kicker, Justus Adams. The defense takes a hit losing Jake Carr, Reggie Ellis, Ugo Uzodinama and Rod Davis on the D-line and also loses linebackers Joseph Harris, Joe Stoner and A.J. Butler.

The defensive backfield loses Destry Berry, DeShawn Mills, Matt Raymer and Freddy Young, but returns a lot of young talent.

The Lobos signed 24 first-year Lobos on signing day. That class includes 15 defensive players, seven offensive players and two players labeled as "athletes" meaning they could end up on either side of the ball. The Lobos addressed their biggest needs at quarterback, the defensive line and the defensive secondary. They signed a player at each of those position out of the junior college ranks.

Now, the puzzling of the 2013 Lobos begins on the field.

"We are in a much better place than we were a year ago. The level of football is higher," said Davie. "We were implementing so many things last year and we had to look for strengths and weakness as we went along.

"Now, we know those areas and have a better feel with personnel. Now, we know the focus areas of things we have to improve. I'm excited to go out there and excited to see how much we can improve."

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 rstevens50@comcast.net.