We'll go position-by-position, to see where the Aggie football team needs to most help. NMSU has 17 scholarships to offer this offseason:
Quarterbacks: The team needs improved play here and one would think a new face will get the start under center. Freshman Tanner Rust redshirted this past year and will likely get a look. Head coach DeWayne Walker said the team would recruit a quarterback as well. Either way, the team needs better production from this position in 2010.
Running backs: Seth Smith had a nice year for the Aggies and deserves a shot to at the fulltime gig once again. The team is high on grey shit Marquese Dunn who, with his big body, looks to be a bruiser as well, similar to Smith. The Aggies could certainly use a change-of-pace back who supplies speed and could be a homerun hitter out of the backfield. The Aggies thought they had two last year in seniors Marquell Colston and Tonny Glynn, but neither made impacts, Colston because of off-the-field troubles while Glynn simply fell out of the backfield rotation. Walker seemed to be OK with the position heading into the offseason, but also said if a quality candidate emerged in the recruiting process that the team would give them a serious look. Also on the roster is James Hall Jr., Robert Clay, Victor Johnson, J'Barrie Jones and Donavan Roberts.
Wide receiver: The Aggies need a stud here, someone who they can call a flat-out No. 1 receiver. They're certainly not easy to come by. A player with size and gamebreaking ability is preferred — frankly it should be a top priority come signing day. While Todd Lee and Marcus Allen were contributors this past year, they would benefit from playing next to a true No. 1 target. NMSU will need to add a couple receivers, as Marcus Anderson won't be back next season and no one made a sizeable impact across the unit in 2009.
Tight end: With just 17 scholarships available, Walker indicated that adding a tight end likely won't be No. 1 on the list. He also acknowledged that the team will need much-improved play from this unit next season. Kyle Nelson couldn't catch a cold all season long and suffered from a lack of confidence. Physically, Nelson can do the job. Now, it's about him picking up his play. Kyle Hipp is big — 6-5, 250 — but didn't see the ball much. NMSU didn't utilize the tight end much in 2009 — Nelson, Hipp, Kenny Evora combined for 17 catches for 137 yards and two touchdowns. Whether that was because of the scheme or the players is another question. Keep in mind that no one got going in the passing game, however. Tight end Jackson Kaka, who played his high school ball in Hawaii, looks to be coming to NMSU. Still, how much can the team rely on a true freshman? As of now, it looks as if the Aggies will need better play from the players they already have on the roster.
Offensive line: Although only a handful of contributors from this unit are departing during the offseason — most notably starting tackle David Norman — Walker wants more bodies along the offensive line. A team can never have too many O-linemen and, while the Aggies actually held their own here in 2009, more depth and better skill could have made the unit a standout position. Keep in mind, the Aggies got a 1,000-yard rusher this season without the real threat of a passing attack ever in place. The O-line can take at least 50 percent of the credit on that one. Another plus from last year: While penalties were a major concern during the first three weeks of the season, they were cut back as the year went on. Was the unit outstanding? No. But it was solid and should be even better in 2010 with more coaching and added reinforcements.
Defensive line: Again, Walker wants more bodies here, and rightfully so. Defensive ends Pierre Fils and Donte Savage played, what seemed like, every snap this past season. They both had good years with 13 sacks (Fils with 7, Savage with 6), 106 tackles (each had 53), five forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries and six passes defensed. They could use a third, even a fourth player, in their rotation however to keep them fresh and have the unit humming at a more efficient rate. NMSU was also fortunate that both D-ends stayed healthy throughout the entire season as well. Defensive tackle was a cut-and-paste job this year, with bodies being rotated into the lineup. Still, the group battled every week. John Finau was probably the group's most steady player while Chris Romero contributed at times. I expected more from E.J. Cannon. Dejuan Yates will be in the fold next year and how about Branden Warner? He was non-existent this past year, despite the preseason hype. One cannot count on Warner, but if he could deliver on his potential next year, it would be a nice shot in the arm for the Aggie D-line. Expect D-tackle to be a coveted position during recruiting, with upgrades here being a top priority.
Linebacker: This unit needs to recruit players that can step in and take the field right away. Walker said the Aggies will look toward the junior college ranks to upgrade here. The coaching staff is high on B.J. Adolpho, who was the team's top practice-squad player last year. Four seniors took all the snaps here last season — Ross Conner, Jason Scott, Jamar Cotton and Sam King. This group didn't set the house on fire, but they were at least reliable, particularly Scott, who came on as the year moved along. Finding adequate replacements across the board for next season could be the coaching staff's toughest challenge of the offseason.
Secondary: This unit was average, and I mean that in a good way. They played hard, were solid — for the most part — and carried themselves with confidence. I don't see the need to add many pieces here — not that it would be a bad idea, but the roster has other immediate needs. Again, this entire group — Davon House, Jonte Green, Stephon Hatchett, Chris Buckner, Donyae Coleman, Junior Fasavalu — stayed healthy, and only Buckner and Fasavalu depart. Walker did say the staff would add some players here in recruiting. Certainly added depth at safety and another cornerback would seem to be needs, if they decide to go that route.
Special teams: Coleman could step in as the primary punt and kick returner next season. In 2009, the return game was a revolving door, with Marcus Anderson having the standout play of the year — the punt return against Utah State. Allen also got some looks in the return game, as did Lee. One would think Kyle Hughes will assume the kicking duties once again, but will it be as both a kicker and a punter? Hughes was inconsistent in 2009 and perhaps doing double-duty in the kicking game had something to do with that. Still, with just 17 scholarships, is there an immediate need to grab a kicker or punter for next season? I believe it's important. But there are a lot of holes to fill on the Aggie roster, many I deem more important than that.
It should be fun to track the Aggies this offseason. Is it spring yet? I'm already missing the football field.