Looking at the landscape of the New Mexico State Aggie football team, I thought I would break dow 10 keys to NMSU seeing success on the football field as the 2009 season approaches.
1) Marquell Colston — It looks as if Colston will be the feature back for the Aggies this year. Assuming that is the case, his production will be key, as NMSU will pound the ball on the ground a lot more under the new coaching staff. Colston will run against a lot of defenses geared up to stop him, putting the extra man in the box and looking for the ball carrier. He has that certain “shifty” speed that's needed to thrive in such a situation. Last year his problem was staying healthy. This year, he needs to stay on the field and be physical. He will get the ball a lot and he will be hit a lot.
2) Quarterback play — Obviously, this is an important piece to the team, an area that really wasn't worried about all to much the last three years with Chase Holbrook under center. Now, it's back to square one at the position. The question is, who should run the offense? Jeff Fleming, Trevor Walls and freshman Tanner Rust all figure to be in the mix. Will it be a two-man show? The running game should be better, but the team needs to throw the ball to ease the burden on the backs and O-line. If the team gets just decent and consistent play from this position, it will help a great deal.
3) Stopping the run — This is something that, frankly, the team has been terrible at in recent years. Good defenses stop the run, and I believe it will be DeWayne Walker's top priority for this unit. It seems like Branden Warner will be an Aggie. This will be a huge addition to the team. Good defensive tackles are hard to come by, yet can anchor a defense. If this kid suits up with the Aggies, it will be a huge shot in the arm for the club. Stopping the run is a team effort and it starts in the middle of the field. D-tackle, middle linebacker and the two safeties need to play aggressively and make an impact.
4) Nick Paden — Last year Paden, the team's middle linebacker, put up huge numbers — 107 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 interceptions, 3 pass breakups and a forced fumble. It seems like he will have to do it all over again. Joe Lee Dunn's system funneled the ball carrier to certain players and Paden seemed to benefit. This team will win and lose on the defensive side of the ball in 2009 and the senior MLB will be key.
5) Marcus Allen, William Bullock — Again, there is a shift in philosophy on the offensive side of the ball. Small receivers with breakaway speed are not in vogue anymore. The offensive staff wants bigger players on the outside with a physical presence. It seems like Allen (6-foot, 187 pounds) and Bullock (6-3, 205) will get opportunities immediately. Again, it will be an adjustment for Aggie fans. The last few years saw Holbrook work with Chris Williams and A.J. Harris, forming great chemistry as a passing unit. Brand new faces make up this part of the team and a new personality will develop. Hopefully, Marcus Anderson will still play a big role in the offense and Mumme holdovers Julius Fleming and Todd Lee can develop. Allen and Bullock, however, will get a lot of looks.
6) Davon House — Walker played defensive back and coached defensive backs. This is his bread and butter and I expect House, a cornerback, to have a good year. He's actually been a mainstay on this unit — he's started since his freshman year — and has displayed a nose for the ball. In spring ball, Davon looked like he added muscle to his frame. Walker will ask his cornerbacks to play man-to-man coverage a lot. He will lean on House, as well as fellow starter Jonte Green.
7) Starting safeties — I could have lumped the secondary together as a whole, but I actually see cornerback being an area of strength while the safety position is a question mark. How could it not be? During spring ball, Stephon Hatchett and Junior Fasavalu were getting serious looks here. Hatchett is a former receiver who stuck on the roster after impressing Mumme during the team's annual trip to Gallup two years ago. He saw limited action at the position and eventually was moved to defensive back. Fasavalu was a Woody Widenhofer recruit, someone that the team was high on during his freshman campaign two years ago. He tore his ACL in Week 1 against Southeastern Louisiana, ending his season. He's back now. Still, this is an area of unknown for the team.
8) Offensive line — I think this unit could perform well this year. One can only hope that's the case, as a big chunk of the team's offense will rest on its shoulders. There is a lot of experience returning. Michael Grady had a good season last year, playing in all 12 games and splitting duties between center and tackle. The experience should help Grady in 2009. Chuck Taylor is a big individual who could be a difference maker along the line's interior. Patrick Blount, Joel Buschmann, David Norman, Joe Suder, Kyle Smith, all these guys played last year when the line was ravaged by injuries. Leaders will have to emerge. The team lost two this offseason in center Richie Bolin and guard Polo Gutierrez. Two years ago, it was bookend tackles Mike Martinez and James Farrelly. There is depth and I believe there is talent here.
9) Jason Scott — Last year, Scott was a tackling machine, thriving in Dunn's scheme despite being undersized at linebacker. This spring, the staff moved him to safety and then back to linebacker again. He needs to be productive in the new system that Walker brings over. Dunn did a good job with limited resources last year, but his defensive system catered to such. ‘Tweeners like Scott found success playing under him. That success needs to continue.
10) Special teams — This is important no matter the team. Kicking the ball well, getting good field position and knocking the ball through the uprights are all critical to a team's success. Last year, the Aggies' special teams played better. Kyle Hughes was serviceable as a kicker and punter and supplied a big leg. Williams was electric as always on kick and punt returns and Anderson showed promise. The team is also adding Donyae Miller, who returned kicks last season at Compton College. Hughes looks like he will punt while the kicking duties remain up in the air. This team will lean on its defense. Good defensive teams need their special team's units to play with them side by side.
That's it folks. Feel free to leave comments.