Stevens: Lobo Linebackers Are A Committee With Individual Talent

April 25, 2012

This is the fourth in a series on University of New Mexico football position breakdowns. Today, the linebackers. Next: Wide receivers/tight ends. Other position stories include:

By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/

It is a group of Lobos trying to push a dismal football past behind them while focusing on a future of hope and a renewed passion for success. However, when you key in on the University of New Mexico Lobos' linebacker position, you can't help but look back and think about what the Lobos have lost there.

Gone is Carmen Messina and his back-to-back-to-back 100-tackle season s (142 in 2011).

Probably, you don't fill with a single body the hole left by the Mountain West's all-time leading tackler and you lean more toward the replacement -by-committee approach.

Probably, you use Messina as an example of what the Lobos plan to do in 2012 - attack the ball with a passion that might even eclipse your natural talent.

And probably that hole can be filled by a committee of Lobo bodies that show a ton of individual potential. The Lobos are not void of talent in the position that stands strong behind the defensive line. Here is a quick look at a few of those playmakers.

  • Dallas Bollema - 6-2, 225-pound junior: Bollema played in the wide shadow cast by Messina, but also played with savvy and passion. He was the Lobos' No. 3 tackler in 2011 and is the top returning tackler with his 68 wraps last season.

  • Joe Harris - 6-2, 225-pound senior: Harris came to UNM as a defensive back, was moved to the line and is now back on two feet as a linebacker. Harris has the size, the speed and the pride to be special. He has NFL-type tools, is a fierce pass rusher, and he should improve with every practice and every game at his new position.

  • Javarie Johnson - 6-3, 224-pound sophomore: Johnson has had some injury setbacks as a Lobo and is sitting out spring ball following ACL surgery. Johnson was billed for greatness by the previous UNM staff and there is no reason to think that assessment was incorrect. Johnson has strength and tremendous athletic ability.

  • Joe Stoner - 5-10, 225-pound senior: Stoner fought the injury bug in 2011, after registering 67 tackles as a sophomore in 2010. Stoner is a hard-hitter with big-play potential. He forced four fumbles in 2010.

    Of course, there is more talent at the linebacker spot: Tevin Newman, Brian Hubbell, Richard Winston, Adam Mitchell, Zach Daugherty, Toby Ball, Josh Romero, and A.J. Butler. All this depth will be needed as UNM switches to a 3-4 front and tries to build a new passion for tackling.

    "You can see our pride growing," said Harris. "We are developing a passion to get to the ball. There is a new attitude out here."

    Said Coleman Hutzler, UNM's outside linebackers coach: "We have redefined effort and redefined how to run to the ball. The guys have bought into it. It's starting to grow into their thing and they are getting on each other about it. We need to create an identity as a defense and develop pride in each position group."

    The Lobos obviously have a lot to change on a defense that was ranked 118th out of 120 teams in total defense. The Lobos' 3-4 front looks to throw three nasty linemen up front with four linebackers filling holes and shooting gaps. UNM was primary a 4-3 front in 2011, but often went 3-4. The Lobos will use both fronts in 2012, too.

    "The keys might be a little different at time, but it's still run and hit," said Kevin Cosgrove, the inside linebackers coach. "On defense, you have to play fast. That means you have to understand what you are doing and react. As we become more comfortable with things, we'll react quicker."

    The Lobos have a few hurdles to clear in spring ball. Harris and Butler, a former DB, are new to the position. Johnson and Newman are on the injured list and are learning by watching. Winston has practiced at both inside and outside spots.

    "We are a work in progress, but we are making progress," said Cosgrove. "As a position coach, you try to be exact in everything you teach and it's important to see improvement every day. Fundamentals are going to be our edge and give us the opportunity to be good football players and a good defense."

    Another key for the Lobos to be solid at the linebacker spot is for a few linebackers to step up and add passion to those fundamentals.

    "The guys are playing hard. That's important," said Hutzler. "You can always get the minor things corrected, but you need guys that want to play hard."