With the start of fall practice just a little more than a week away, I want to let you, the fan, know what five things regarding the Aggies I will keep a close eye on as camp unfolds
1) The quarterbacks: Uh, this is one of the most obvious things I've ever written on my blog. Who won't have their eyes on this position? Years ago, I used to say that in football you really didn't need a great quarterback to win. I have changed my view on the issue. A team is ultimately a reflection of its quarterback play. Bad performance here will sink a squad and exceptional performance can put one over the top.
The candidates to play under center are Jeff Fleming, Trevor Walls and Tanner Rust. NMSU doesn't need the QB to blow the doors off Aggie Memorial Stadium, the Aggies just need competent play here - limited turnovers, good decision making, strong leadership skills. And a grittiness. No style points here. Just a football player who earns the respect of his teammates and the Aggie fans. Those are the very best quarterbacks, regardless of what the stat sheet might say.
2) The offensive line: I will keep a close eye on this unit because I think, behind the quarterback, it will be the most important position on the field this year for NMSU.
First off, NMSU is making a major transition in offensive schemes, from a pass-happy outfit to one which will mix in the run much more. This change will be felt along the offensive line, you can count on it.
The unit was also very banged up last year and loses two good players and leaders - center Richie Bolin and guard Polo Gutierrez. So it will look much different than a year ago.
Also, I believe the unit is a bit undersized. The group's biggest player is guard Joe Palmer, who stands at 6-foot-3, 308 pounds. I know, this is not small for regular human standards, but along college football lines, it's not very big. Only three lineman top 300 pounds.
Tackle Kyle Smith played well last year when he was in the lineup and Michael Grady is versatile. Tackles Patrick Blount and Joel Buschmann have shown ability in the past.
3) Linebackers: This unit is thin across the board. Starting at middle linebacker will be Mayfield High School graduate Ross Conner. A backup during his time at NMSU, the senior Conner will fill in for the injured Nick Paden. A lot will fall on Ross' shoulders this year as the team's defensive quarterback.
Outside linebacker Jason Scott was solid last season and is versatile. He will see time on the weakside and also in the middle. If the team had too, Scott could line up in the secondary as well. He's undersized, but he's a football player at heart.
The other outside linebacker spot will come down to Jamar Cotton and Sam King. They will battle it out at this position, and I like Cotton to come down with the starting spot.
Depth is an issue as well here. The team doesn't have a whole lot of linebackers on the roster and the ones they do have are inexperienced and unproven. If Scott, Conner and Cotton stay healthy and on the field, this position should be OK. But it's highly unlikely all three will be at 100 percent all year. It's just the nature of football that guys go down.
4)Defensive safeties: I am intrigued by two players at this position - Junior Fasavalu and Stephon Hatchett. Part of the reason I am so intrigued is because they really haven't played at all during their time at NMSU and now they will be thrust into significant roles at the safety position.
Will both start? It seems like that is yet to be determined, although it also seems as if they are in the running. Freshman David Quiroga was moved from wide receiver to defensive back this offseason to add depth and competition at fall camp.
Good defenses are built up the middle of the field. That is, strong defensive tackles, good play from the middle linebacker and good safeties. And I do have concerns about NMSU going up the middle of the field.
5) Special teams: I truly believe if the Aggies are going to be competitive this year, they aren't going to be pretty doing it.
That isn't a knock on the team. Actually, a lot of good football teams aren't pretty. Winning is beautiful no matter how it's viewed and that should be the bottom line, not style points.
With that being said, a resourceful special teams unit is a must. Capitalize on makeable field goal attempts, pin the opposition deep punting the ball and don't give up big returns on kickoffs.
On the flip side of the coin, strong return games are a must as well. It's all about field position. Even if a return man gets the ball up to the 50-yard line on a kickoff and the Aggies go 3-and-out, at least they swing the field and put the opposition in a dubious hole.
It's won't be the prettiest aspect of the game and it certainly will be overlooked, but good play on special teams will keep NMSU in some games this year.
Also of note: I am looking forward to seeing the running backs this fall - Marquell Colston, Tonny Glynn and Seth Smith....The quarterbacks are important but finding some reliable targets in the passing game will also be huge. Receiver play will be watched....The defensive line is young. But they will have to be tough....Who will outplay the other at the No. 2 cornerback position? That spot will be up for grabs between Jonte Green and Chris Buckner.