New Mexico went into spring drills with a mission to find a way to stop the bleeding. And, perhaps to the mild surprise of MWC fans everywhere, it may have found it. It starts on the defense, which was utterly hapless in 2009, ranking in the triple digits for total defense, scoring defense, and pass efficiency defense– despite the nation’s leading tackler prowling the middle of the field. It may be fair to ask how this unit could not improve.
The improvement begins up front, where highly touted transfer tackle Reggie Ellis (right), who followed Coach Locksley from Illinois to Albuquerque enters the gameday lineup, next to all-MWC end Jonathan Rainey and (probably) true freshman Calvin Smith, perhaps the conference’s biggest recruiting coup of the 2010 class. The other end, Jaymar Latchison, returns as well. Look for the Lobos to feature a dramatically upgraded pass rush.
Which dramatic upgrade will take loads of pressure off the linebackers, led by Carmen Messina (left), who was perhaps the team’s lone really bright spot in 2009. Messina tallied 163 tackles last year, half of them solo. Messina is the only returning starting LB for the Lobos; Joe Stoner played his way into a starting slot this spring, while the third spot remains open.
The Lobos’ strength on the line also will help their secondary, which has nowhere to go but up, compared to last year. And up they’ll go, with Bubba Forrest at full health (he didn’t practice this spring), and a raft of new athletes to up the competitiveness of the group. A. J. Butler, and Carmeiris Stewart (formerly at RB and WR), and several incoming freshmen can’t help but improve the performance of the defense’s third level.
Also working to help the defense will be a much-improved (compared to its near-useless 2009 incarnation) offense. New Mexico tallied triple-digit national ranks in rushing, scoring, and total offense last season. On this side of the trench, there’s nowhere to go but up, as well. Unlike the defense, however, the growth on offense is generated behind the line. Quarterback B. R. Holbrook (right) all but seized the starting role. Coach Locksley appeared unwilling to name Holbrook the starter only because he’d promised signees Tarean Austin and (all-name candidate) Stump Godfrey a fair chance at it. Neither Austin nor Godfrey enrolled early, however, and they’re clearly going to start well behind Holbrook come August. Brad Gruner and Tate Smith both were injured by the end of spring, leaving Holbrook most of the first-team snaps. Holbrook shone under center, and appears poised to lead a dramatically more effective passing attack. One of Holbrook’s better targets, Michael Scarlett, went down in the spring game, and his injury and status remain undisclosed. But TE Lucas Reed and WRs Myles Daugherty and Chris Hernandez will haul in the passes.
Lobo watchers have more reason to be excited about their team’s improvement on the ground. Demond Dennis and Kasey Carrier (left)made waves this spring, breaking long runs behind the stout line play of tackle Byron Bell. Dennis moved passed Wright into the #2 spot on the chart. LT Bell is the new leader of the line, which replaces three seniors on the right, including all-MWC and NFL-draftee center Erik Cook. Their replacements all saw significant playing time in ‘09, and showed well in the spring.