Stevens: Lobo Defense Seeks To Squeeze Productivity Out of Youth
April 26, 2013
New Mexico Lobos Football --- 2013 Spring Ball
Spring Ball Wrap Up: GoLobos.com will be wrapping up the final week of New Mexico football's spring ball with a three-part series.
Today: Jeff Mills on the defense
Wednesday: Bob DeBesse on the offense
Sunday: Bob Davie's overview
By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
Lobo Jacori Greer has heard the slap aimed at the New Mexico defensive line. That it is a question mark, an unknown element filled with no-names.
Really, the 6-foot-4, 270-pound lineman takes no offense. The unit that gave up 30.2 points per game and 442.2 total yards returns only three starters and one starting defensive lineman: Greer. So, Greer understands the concern
He also knows the only way to end the talk is to walk the walk.
"I love it. I love the challenge," Greer said of the worry over the D-line. "Everyone has question marks and maybe that question mark will be there until Aug 31 (season opener vs. Texas-San Antonio).
"That's when we can show people that we're not a question mark; we're the foundation that starts up front. I'm excited for the challenge. I'm ready to go."
Greer, recently named a UNM captain along with linebacker Dallas Bollema, running back Kasey Carrier and center Dillon Farrell, personifies the attitude of the New Mexico defense. These are Lobos coming out with a passion to improve and a passion to hit.
"The demeanor, the attitude, the toughness that they are bringing is really encouraging," said Jeff Mills, UNM defensive coordinator. "Talent is never enough. It's also about going out there with an attitude, with a toughness. You have to have that edge."
In the attitude department, there are a lot of high grades coming out of these young Lobo defenders. You can see the talent, too. But there is a difference between activity and productivity. Will these young Lobos produce?
Greer is the only starter on the D-line and Bollema is joined by Rashad Rainey to give Mills his three returning starters on defense. That means there are no starters back in the defensive secondary. Yeah, this is a young defense and Mills isn't trying to throw the playbook at them.
"The goal on defense is to go out there and not think, but just react and run to the play," said Mills. "We have grown. We as coaches are trying to keep things simpler so they can do what they are supposed to do on defense which is run and hit.
"We are young, but there is more depth. There are so many guys out here who are feisty and hungry to learn and hungry to get better. You can't replace that type of attitude."
Said defensive back David Guthrie: "We want to bring a defense that is all about smash-mouth football."
For sure, the Lobos need to do some smashing on defense. They gave up too many points, too many yards, and too many big plays in 2012. They need to stop the run. They need to get to the quarterback. They need a secondary that won't get burned. They need a better defense.
"We are building a wall, trying to build a stout front that will stop the run," said Mills. "It all starts up front."
Yeah, it does. But sometimes it ends in the back. The Lobos lost Destry Berry, DeShawn Mills, Matt Raymer and Freddy Young out of the 2012 secondary. UNM also lost eight of its top ten tacklers from 2010.
Bollema led UNM in tackling last season with 89 and Rainey fell into the No. 7 slot with 40 tackles. UNM lost 307 tackles in those five defenders between Bollema and Rainey. That's a lot of production to replace, but Bollema and Rainey give Mills some experience - and productivity - at the linebacker spot.
Greer fell into the No. 11 slot last year with 32 tackles. Fatu Ulale returns to the defensive front after a redshirt season, but he was in on only nine tackles as a reserve tackle in 2011. Greer and Ulale both need to up their tackling production in 2013.
"We have narrowed our focus (in practice)," said Greer. "Our coaches have challenged us to work on one specific thing which was our first step. We have focused on that and it has made us better - better in our footwork, better in our keys. I'm really pleased with our progress."
Archie McDaniel is the UNM defensive line coach. He is working with around ten linemen, most who have never taken a snap as a Lobo starter.
"The biggest challenge we have is so many of the guys have not seen a lot of snaps," said McDaniel, in his second season at UNM. "But there is enough talent out there and I think we'll have the depth we need.
"We're going to be young, but we have some guys with the physical ability to help this football team. We have to continue to build toughness and establish a physical mindset, but we are making progress. We'll be slightly undersized, but we have some guys with both the strength and the quickness and that should play to our advantage."
The UNM defense obviously has some question marks and some holes to fill. UNM goes with a 3-5 front so that makes it a little easier on McDaniel in his attempt to field a savage line. The linebacker spot arguably is the strongest unit on defense with Bollema and Rainey back.
The defensive backfield is a work in progress, but Mills likes the talent and will pick up a few freshmen DBs in the fall.
"We have a lot of work to do in the secondary, but there are a lot of talented kids out there and I like the way they are working," said Mills.
"The guys have gotten bigger, stronger and faster and we have developed some depth. We have a few solid veterans like Jacori Green and Dallas Bollema, who are leading the charge. We also have some young guys who need to mature and that takes time."
The Lobo defense has all the time it needs - up until that Aug. 31 date pointed out by Greer.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.