March 24, 2009

Locksley inherits bare cupboard at New Mexico

The 2008 season was a big one for the Mountain West Conference, but New Mexico didn't join in on the fun. The Lobos finished 4-8, and despite a long run of success, coach Rocky Long "resigned" after the season.

The new coach is Mike Locksley, a recruiting dynamo who had been offensive coordinator at Illinois.

New Mexico returns only eight starters actually 10 if you count two kickers - which means the new coaching staff has a lot of work to do this spring.

Here's a look at the Lobos as they prepare for spring practice.

new mexico AT-A-GLANCE
Safety Frankie Solomon is one of just a handful of starters returning for the Lobos.
THE BASICS
Coach: Mike Locksley
Last season: 4-8, 2-6 Mountain West
Spring dates: March 24-April 18
RETURNING STARTERS
Offense (5): T Byron Bell, WR Roland Bruno, C Erik Cook, QB Brad Gruner, G Joshua Taufalele.
Defense (3): S Ian Clark, S Clint McPeek, S Frankie Solomon.
Special teams (2): K James Aho, P Adam Miller.
Positions of strength

The Lobos should have good depth at quarterback, running back, wide receiver and safety, where all three starters are back in the Lobos' 3-3-5 set. And the return of kicker James Aho will be a boon. There is renewed enthusiasm with a coaching change. And that change means starting jobs will be up for grabs, so competition should be fierce in the spring.

Help is needed

There will be a learning curve as the players adapt to new schemes on offense, defense and special teams. Safeties Ian Clark and Clint McPeek will not participate in contact drills as each recovers from shoulder surgery. Depth at defensive tackle is questionable, and there's a need for a second starting cornerback. Quarterback Donovan Porterie will not be 100 percent as he continues to recover from ACL surgery. He was the starter before his injury.

Keep an eye on

OT Ivan Hernandez: He has a great frame (6 feet 6/295 pounds) and good mobility but isn't a mauler. Hernandez, a senior, could be ready to break through as a first-year starter in the new spread-blocking scheme.

DE Jaymar Latchison: He probably is the most athletic defensive lineman the program has had in decades. Latchison showed flashes as a redshirt freshman last season. He will need to be a consistent pass rushing threat in the new 4-3 front now that the Lobos likely won't rely on the blitz as heavily as they did under Long.

LB Carmen Messina: He enjoyed a solid season coming off the bench as a redshirt freshman and is now the most experienced linebacker in the program. Messina isn't an overwhelming physical presence (6-2/215), but he has good quickness, great intangibles and the ability to be an impact player on every down.

His time is now

Punter Adam Miller, a senior, has tremendous leg strength and improved in the second half of his first season as the "starter," but he struggled with consistency and must get punts off faster. Miller will have all spring to impress. Should he struggle, the staff in the fall may turn to Ben Skaer - one of the nation's top high school punters last season.

The buzz

The primary goal is for the players to get familiar with the new coaching staff and adapt to the new schemes. This will be the fifth offensive system the Lobos have had in the past six seasons, so for better or for worse, most of the offensive players are used to learning on the fly. The defense had remained virtually the same in philosophy and terminology since 1998, and former LSU co-coordinator Doug Mallory's system will be a radical departure from what the Lobos had been running under Long.

Tom Dienhart is the national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dienhart@yahoo-inc.com.




 

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