Football, football, football is in the air. And, I must say, it certainly is refreshing.
NMSU will try and blaze a new trail under coach DeWayne Walker. While the past history of the program indicates that more struggles could be on the horizon, it's also an easy time to be optimistic. There's a new sheriff in town with a brand new outlook.
A few things I'm looking for this spring season:
1. Overall attitude. The last few years, the Aggies were entertaining and, at times, an intriguing team. They had some talent and beat/competed with some teams that gave the fan base some reasonable hope. That was the frustrating part. Right when NMSU seemed on the cusp under Hal Mumme, they would throw up a clunker that had people shaking their heads.
I felt like the team was mentally weak at times. Slick toys on offense, not enough grunt and grit to win consistently. And that's an attitude you adopt on the field. Walker is a defensive-minded coach who can motivate players. Seeing a more blue-collar approach should be welcomed by those close to the program.
2. Quarterback play: I hate to say it, but it's a cliche for a reason. Quarterback is the most important single position on the football field. It can spark your team, or it can deflate it. For that reason, I think NMSU could be in for a struggle, unless someone emerges.
Tanner Rust (freshman) and Jeff Fleming (JC transfer) were brought in to bring some life to the position. And the reality is that there's a lot of unknown here after having solid QB play the past three years. I'm intrigued to see who brings what to the position and there is some excitement here. But that uncertainty can be a double-edged sword. Either way, it's a position to keep an eye on.
3. Running backs: I'm going to keep an eye on the running backs position because I think it could be a real strength of the team. Marquell Colston was good last year and should be back in full force. No reason to think otherwise. Tonny Glynn was an effective player two years ago, forgotten last season. But he can move in space and can certainly provide a role on the team. He just needs a fair chance. And I see Seth Smith's back on the roster. He will be a redshirt junior this season. But the coaching staff was high on Smith when he came in last season. There's even a local kid here: Former LCHS running back, James Hall Jr. James won't be participating in spring ball, but the point is that there's potential in this unit. And some upside.
4. Team's defense: Something that was overlooked last year when things became pretty dismal was the play of the defense. Joe Lee Dunn did a solid job with limited resources. The unit struggled some and, at times, a lot. But they also played hard every snap, were a scrappy, feisty bunch and made heady plays at some crucial times. They weren't overly talented, but they were well coached.
Walker comes in as a former defensive coordinator. And I want to see what he brings to the table in a similar capacity. There is no doubt the coach will shift more help to that side of the ball. And that is half the battle. But can he make them one of the WAC's better units? That is how NMSU is going to win under Walker. With strong D. That is his staple, his stamp. Dunn wasn't retained. It's Walker's show. I am looking forward to seeing how this group plays as a whole and with what type of fire and passion they bring to the field. If it's a strong unit, NMSU can compete.
Other areas to keep an eye on: The kicking game, which has been abysmal in the past; the wide receiver unit, which lost two great players from the past year - Chris Williams and A.J. Harris - but still has some weapons if they are utilized correctly; offensive line, which I think can be a strong point to the team.