Lobo Football Spring Practice: A Feel-Good Story
April 28, 2013
Upcoming this week: Post-spring position by position breakdown
Summer school starts: June 4
Tentative fall camp start: Aug. 1
Season-opener: Aug. 31 vs. Texas-San Antonio on Branch Field at University Stadium
By Greg Archuleta
UNM Assistant Director of Communications
Bob Davie feels better about his University of New Mexico football team. And that means University of New Mexico football fans also should feel better about their football team.
UNM's second-year coach is not a man given to hyperbole when it comes to his Lobos. So when he was asked Saturday about the state of his football team upon the conclusion of spring practice, his answer was an encouraging sign about the growth of the program.
"I told the coaches and players this has been a very productive spring," an upbeat Davie said. "We spread this thing out over five weeks. It was really like an in-season schedule for coaches and for players. We squeezed every ounce of juice from a productivity standpoint. That's why these guys leave this field feeling pretty good. It's starting to look like what a college football program is supposed to look like, and a lot of those areas that people that only see the scoreboard don't recognize. And I know in the end all that matters is what is on that scoreboard.
"But I think we're taking steps to make this what a college program is supposed to look like and I'm kind of excited."
It's a program that looks like the offense is taking steps toward incorporating a more effective passing attack to complement what was the No. 5 rushing offense in the nation in 2012. It's a program that looks like the defense is starting to understand what the coaches what done from not only a schematic standpoint but also an effort and attitudinal standpoint as well.
None of those conditions were present during Davie's first spring in 2012. Last season, the coaching staff spent the majority of the spring just getting the players to an acceptable effort level. Scheme implementation was secondary.
Davie went so far last spring as to declare the unit's 11th session in 2012 as its first real practice in terms of the familiarity between the new staff and the players that allowed the coaches to identify playmakers and begin to mold them into a team.
Flash forward to 2013, and those baby steps are firmly behind the team.
"At this time of year, you can only compare yourselves to where you were a year ago," Davie said. "There's no question right now - just the operation of things, just in the process of things as we should be a year along - it's a whole different thing, a whole different mindset. All I can do is judge what I see on a daily basis, and it's better than it was a year ago. Now how that translates to how (the Lobos compare to) Texas-San Antonio, UTEP, Pittsburgh and right on down the line, I don't really know, but I don't really care. Right now, it's better than it was a year ago. It's better. That's all I can say."
Fueling Davie's enthusiasm, at least in part, had to be the day sophomore quarterback Cole Gautsche had throwing the football during a team scrimmage in the latter portions of the last practice of the spring on Saturday. Two deep balls - to wide receiver Jeric Magnant and to running back Kasey Carrier - were perfectly placed, and Gautsche looked as confident running the offense as he has all spring.
"Right now, I'm impressed. I was impressed today watching him throw the football," Davie said. "I don't think there's any question he throws the ball a lot better against us than he did a year ago at this time. Now, how that compares to how he throws in the fall, none of us know. That's what we're anxious to see. But we leave out of here feeling encouraged."
Junior college transfer Clayton Mitchem had been giving Gautsche plenty of competition until a thigh injury during UNM's 10th practice of the spring scratched Mitchem from performing in any team activities the rest of the way.
"Mitchem could throw the day he walked in here," Davie said. "There's no question Clayton Mitchem, if you're just looking at natural release and natural arm strength, jumps out at you. It hurt him; he lost a whole week at the end (due to the injury). I think he's athletic enough to do what we ask him to do, but right now to ask him to go in there and do it, he'd have a hard time doing it."
UNM's offense entered the spring session already confident in its abilities to run the football. The offensive line returns four starters, and even though a shoulder injury kept starting sophomore right guard Garrett Adcock out the entire spring, the offense still moved the ball efficiently on the ground with Gautsche and running backs Kasey Carrier, Jhurell Pressley and Crusoe Gongbay.
Carrier set a single-season school rushing record with 1,469 yards, as well as 15 rushing touchdowns, in 2012. Gautsche set a record for UNM freshman QBs with 760 rushing yards. He scored seven TDs. Pressley added 462 rushing yards and six TDs, and Gongbay was the team's leading rushing in 2011 with 500 rushing yards.
The addition of a passing game put even more pressure on UNM's budding defense this spring.
"I think we're taking steps to make this what a college program is supposed to look like, and I'm kind of excited."
Bob Davie, Lobo football coach
"Still behind, still behind the offense," Davie said of his 3-4 defense. "I expected the offense to be ahead of the defense. But I think we've made some strides (defensively), just on what the expectations are. We tweaked some things schematically. We need more players. We have guys coming in that are going to have an opportunity to help us. I feel like we're probably a year behind. But we now have a foundation, I think, on which we can start building a defense."
And in the theme of feeling better about things, based on comparisons to 2012, Davie noted a drastic different between the defensive groups.
"At no time during the season last year did I ever feel we were really getting better on defense, quite honestly," he said. "We were hanging on by a thread. I feel now there are some building blocks there to build on."
Defensive coordinator Jeff Mills said the coaching staff simplified some of the things in the scheme to allow the players to react and play faster, rather than having to pause and think about what their assignments require them to do.
And as much as the offense dominated the first part of Saturday's scrimmage, the defense came alive during the latter stages to neutralize its counterpart.
"Everyone's feeling comfortable with the scheme," senior captain and weak side linebacker Dallas Bollema said. "Week 1 was a little iffy, and then Week 5 we're looking strong and everyone's moving around real well. Week 1 to Week 5 was just a huge difference. The progression every day was just real positive."
The defense began the spring adjusting to several offensive players transitioning over, including cornerback junior Saqwan Edwards (from wide receiver), sophomore safety David Anaya (from running back) and junior linebacker Trajuan Briggs (also from running back).
The unit also had to adjust to injuries to sophomore defensive linemen Dominic Twitty, Paytron Hightower and Gerron Borne and outside linebackers Rashad Rainey (a senior), Javarie Johnson (a junior) and Richard Winston (a sophomore). The ailments contributed to the defense's slow start during the spring.
Now, the coaching staff turns its attention to early recruiting for 2014, and the players will focus on finals coming up in the next couple of weeks. Then, the players return for summer school in June and undoubtedly will get together for volunteer summer workouts, in which coach supervision - other than that of strength and conditioning coordinator Ben Hilgart and his staff - is prohibited.
Last year, Davie could've been forgiven for worrying about the players' motivation to go through the summer conditioning program. That doesn't seem to be as much of a concern in 2013.
"This summer will be very important to us," Davie said.
Especially if Davie and Lobo fans want to feel better at the end of the 2013 fall season than they did at the end of a 4-9 campaign in 2012 that marked more wins than the three previous years combined (3-33).
Will the feel-good story continue? Davie and Lobo fans will find out in four months.