Stevens: Coach Mills Trying to Get His D-Backs In The Right Spot

April 20, 2012

This is the second in a series on University of New Mexico football position breakdowns. Today, the defensive secondary.

By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/

For a Lobo team desperately in search of quality depth, maybe that isn't a problem for Lobo coach Jeff Mills and his defensive secondary.


"The last time I looked, we had 15," said Mills, who also serves as the Lobos' defensive coordinator. "We have a lot of numbers and guys are pushing each other. And we get five more in the fall."

That juggling act surely will continue in the fall, but as UNM heads toward the final week of spring ball, Mills would like to stabilize his defensive backfield - as much as possible.

"You want them to go into the summer knowing their position so they can focus on those specific responsibilities - if possible," said Mills.

The cementing of the secondary would be helpful for Mills, too. But this is kind of a soft-pour job for the engaging Mills simply because Davie's first-year staff has much to find out about their Lobos.

Already UNM has moved A.J. Butler out of the secondary and slipped him into a linebacker spot because of the need for talent and depth in that position. And sophomore receiver, Jamal Merritt, is no longer a receiver as he has been shifted to the secondary.

Yes, there is a lot of evaluating in progress over at the UNM practice fields.

"A lot of spring ball is just getting to know your players," said Mills. "Do we have the guys in the right spots? Should they be a corner or a safety; left side or right side? "

Obviously, this juggling of D-back talent is critical to UNM's defensive success in 2012. The Lobos have a grueling 13-game schedule and need to change not only the culture of the Lobo defense, but also things like tackling, defending receivers and putting pressure on the quarterbacks.

The Lobo defense was ranked 118th out of 120 teams and the Lobo passing efficiency defense was dead last in 2011. The Lobos allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete an amazing 72.6 percent of their passes. Ouch!

2012 Lobo Spring
Defensive Backs:

The good thing about the UNM secondary in 2012 is that unit will carry a lot of experience into the next season. The bad thing is that a lot of these Lobos were the ones who gave up too many passes in 2011. Mills is out to change all that.

"We need to get to a point where they are going on instincts and not thinking about assignments," said Mills. "They are learning a new system and new techniques and it takes time.

"Even the language is new to them. For the most part, it's all new terminology for them. You want to use coaching phrases and words that they understand. It takes time, but they are working hard.

"The communication is improving and in the fall there won't be so much explaining things. The reactions we are looking for should start to emerge. We need to play fast."

The Lobos' basic look on defense comes off a 3-4 front, but the Mills' defense might be as multiple as the Lobos' multi-chambered "Pistol" offense. Mills' defense might be a scatter gun attack with blitzes coming out of the secondary. The Lobos need to get bodies to the football in 2012.

"We're trying to find the best fit and get the right guys on the field who will make plays and get to the football," said Mills.

Mills obviously has his hands full with the defense he has inherited. Did we mention that UNM was No. 118 in the nation in defense in 2011? Mills is trying to firm up the UNM secondary while making the entire defense a more productive unit.

The defensive backs returning with the most experience are safety Freddy Young and cornerback DeShawn Mills, each three-year lettermen. Dante Caro has two letters and Destry Berry, Devonta Tabannah, Julian Lewis and Tim Foley have one year of experience under their pads. That backfield did take some hits from 2011, losing eight Lobos off that unit.