I spoke with Ross Conner today, who will be starting at middle linebacker for the Aggies this season.
This is a great opportunity for Ross and I can't help but be happy for him. He's a local guy, who played at Mayfield. Now he gets to start for NMSU as the the team's middle backer. You could just hear his enthusiasm through the telephone.
“I'm extremely excited,” he said. “I welcome the pressure on my shoulders. The (middle) linebacker in this defense has a lot on his shoulders and I'm ready for that.”
Ross has big shoes to fill in replacing Nick Paden, who made over 100 tackles last season for the Aggies. Ross is a bit undersized, but he will make up for it with heart and hustle. It will be interesting to see him start a full 13 games for the Aggies in the middle.
I also spoke with linebackers coach Dale Lindsey today. He's certainly an old-school coach who has a ton of experience in the NFL. He said that his primary job heading into the fall will be developing depth behind Jason Scott, Conner, Jamar Cotton and Sam King.
It looks like Scott will be a swing linebacker, starting on the weakside and backing up Conner in the middle. King and Cotton will battle during fall ball for the other starting linebacker position.
The concern is if any of the starters go down, where does the team go from there? This is not a very deep position and it looks like just about all the linebackers on the roster will be asked to contribute in some way shape or form. It's inevitable that the backups will be asked to go in and hold down the fort throughout the season.
I will have a story on Lindsey online on Thursday and in Friday's edition of the Sun-News.
I also spoke with Aggie safety Stephon Hatchett last week.
Stephon intrigues me as a player. I know that Hal Mumme was high on him two years ago at Gallup camp and Hatchett played well in spot duty the past two seasons. He was a wide receiver in 2007 and a running back/defensive back during his high school career in Newport News, Va.
He was moved to defensive back last year and he said on the phone last week that he never felt totally comfortable there last season. Now, he feels more up to speed and said that playing receiver actually helped him defending the pass.
“The transition to DB was easy because I knew what (the opposing receiver) wanted to do because I played that position,” he said. “I actually think it helped a lot.”
Both Hatchett and Conner are key to the Aggie defense. Football defenses need to be strong up the middle of the field — D-tackle, MLB and safety. NMSU is very light on experience at these key positions. At least these players are excited about the opportunity here. Their development will dictate how much progress the Aggies make as a team in 2009.