Stevens: Joe Harris & Lobo Defense Ready For A Change

April 13, 2012

New Mexico Lobos Football --- 2012 Spring Ball

By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/

If a pride on a unit starts with the pride in each and every individual, then the Lobo defense will be OK - if it follows the example of senior Joe Harris.

In his last year as a Lobo, Harris is psyched for a change and for success.

"For me, playing defense with a passion is the reason I came here," said Harris, who came to New Mexico in the fall of 2008 as a safety, was moved to the linebacker spot in 2010 after a redshirt season, and was a defensive end this past season.

"The defense is coming together. We are showing a pride on the defensive side. We are building bonds and our pride in getting to the ball is growing."

Says Coach Jeff Mills, UNM's defensive coordinator: "We want the guys to go out there and develop both pride and confidence. You have to play defense with passion and great energy."

Pride, passion and energy are a necessity in every position on the football field, but maybe there is a bit more demand for it on the defensive side of the scrimmage line.

An O-lineman can sometimes be effective with technique and strength. A receiver sometimes is simply a decoy and only has to run down the field. A quarterback can hand off the football and then get out of harm's' way.

All defenders are on five-alarm, red alert from snap to whistle. They have to beat their man and get to the ball.

That's the Lobos plan in 2012 - stick with your assignment and responsibilities, beat your man, go find that football. And do it with passion, energy and all-out pride. No quit. No plays off.

"We are out here with a new slate," said Harris. "This is a new defense and we're erasing the memories of past seasons and starting new. It's a new season with new coaches and a new defense and we are ready to ball."

The Lobo defense did not have a lot of success over the past three seasons of back-to-back-to-back 1-11 campaigns. Simply put, they got to the ball late - or not at all. New Mexico was ranked 118th in total defense out of 120 teams that played in the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision.

Lobo Coach Bob Davie has turned over his defense to Mills, who came to UNM from Washington (secondary), but who also served as the D-coordinator at Idaho, Nevada and Youngstown State. The UNM defense will not be short on defensive expertise as Davie also was a defensive coordinator at Tulane, Texas A&M and Notre Dame.

Mills' philosophy is to attack and get to the football, which is similar to the talk UNM took into the 2011 season. But that bending Lobo defense of 2011 never really looked committed to that theme. There was a lot of reading and reacting as Lobos got pushed backwards by offensive talent that was bigger and badder.

So far, in spring drills, the Lobos' attack is real. But there is much improvement to be made.

"It's not where you start, it's where you finish," said Mills. "But we're at the start. We need to get better. I like the attitude I see out there. They are doing what we ask them to do. It's important to them to be successful and they are putting in the effort."

Senior Joseph Harris

The Lobos basic defensive set in 2012 is a 3-4 front, but that look is not cast in stone. Harris, who has the frame and speed of an NFL linebacker, is listed as a defensive end, but could play a down position or an outside linebacker slot. He is strong. He is fast. Remember, he came to UNM as a speedy safety.

However, Mills said a defense that only has one look is in trouble in today's market of multi-look offenses. There are always adjustments to be made.

"We'll be multiple," said Mills. "We'll have elements of 3-4 and 4-3. You have to be multiple because of the offenses you're going to face. We'll see teams that spread it out and other teams might be more conventional.

"There are philosophies and schemes that people believe in and that usually is a product of where you come from; your background. But football always comes down to fundamentals. On defense, you have to do you assignment, get to the football, make a tackle."

Davie and his staff might have inherited a cupboard thin on wins, but there is some talent for Mills to work with. UNM returns 22 lettermen on defense and six starters: Harris, Reggie Ellis, Dallas Bollema, Dante Caro, Freddy Young and Destry Berry. That unit lost five starters: Jaymar Latchison (DE), Carmen Messina (LB), Zach Dancel (DB), Bubba Forrest (DB) and Anthony Hooks (DB).

The Lobos have six seniors on the defensive line out of the nine Lobos vying for playing time at that spot. The shift to a 3-4 (when used) will give UNM more depth up front.

"We are coming together," said Harris. "It's a new defense, but we are adapting well. We'll be ready."

Editor's Note: Richard Stevens is a former Associate Sports Editor and Sports Columnist for The Albuquerque Tribune. You can reach him at