Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Aggie updates

Head coach DeWayne Walker said the Aggies could have as many as four or five new players on its roster by the time fall practices roll around in early August.

Walker said the team will look to address its secondary — both at cornerback and at safety — as well as wide receiver, linebacker and possibly at running back.

“There's a good chance we'll add some guys,” Walker said.


Some injury updates:

Quarterback Matt Christian injured his left collarbone — its his non-throwing shoulder — and has not been playing as often in recent practices. He did play briefly in last weekend's scrimmage. He should be 100 percent for the start of the season.

Also, Seth Smith said he will play on Saturday during the team's spring game. Smith injured his left shoulder during last weekend's scrimmage, but said it felt fine and he was ready to play. It's his left shoulder — not the same shoulder he separated last year during the second half of the season.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Running back position should be deep

Last year at this time, I wrote on this blog that the Aggies would be set at running back.

I wrote that because of Marquell Colston and Tonny Glynn. Little did I know that Seth Smith would emerge as well as a 1,000-year rusher in the backfield.

Moving on to 2010, and I expect NMSU to be strong once more in the backfield. Actually, I think they'll be stronger than last year from a numbers standpoint.

For starters, Smith returns as a proven runner. He's looked good this spring, showing the power and toughness that he displayed last year, but a year older. The only question with Seth is his health. He runs tough and runs hard. But if he stays on the field — which he did last year despite a separated shoulder which plagued him during the second half of the schedule — expect him to be productive once again.

Robert Clay was a little banged up the last week, but he looked good early on. The team will add Kenny Turner in the fall as well, who is expected to add a big-play element to the offense.

“It should be a strength for our team,” Walker said of the running backs. “We'll see if we have any gamebreakers. Robert Clay and Kenny Turner hopefully can fill that for us.”

The team also has some depth at fullback. Brandon Perez and Ronald Opetaia are both proven players who can gain yards on the ground here and there while opening holes in the running game. Donovan Roberts has also gotten snaps this spring.

“We want a tough minded group and we think we've got that,” Walker said.


Some personnel moves:

Marquese Dunn will not be with the team this year to attend to family business back in Texas. Dunn was expected to vie for carries in the backfield this year.

Also, backup cornerback Lorenzo Caldwell will not be on the roster. He will look to transfer, possibly to Abilene Christian.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Fleming looks good during Saturday scrimmage

Quarterback Jeff Fleming looked good for the Aggies during Saturday's spring scrimmage, the team's second such scrimmage of the year.

The Aggies threw the ball downfield more often and utilized tight end Kyle Nelson in the offense. Fleming hit the senior a handful of times over the middle, with some completions going for big gains. He also hit Marcus Allen for a couple big gains, one of them being a 40-plus yard scoring strike.

Nelson scored two TDs as well, both coming from Fleming.

“I feel a lot more confident,” Fleming said following Saturday's session. “I understand the offense better and I believe in myself.”

Last year, the Aggies didn't throw the ball downfield enough. This spring they seem to be taking more shots deep.

“At times yes, at times no,” Fleming said. ‘When we have to, we do. Today we definitely did it more and I thought we did a good job.”

The junior quarterback also displayed his mobility, taking an option left and bringing it down to the Aggie 3-yard line for a pickup of over 10 yards.

“He has that athleticism,” Dunbar said. “He made plays running today and he made some plays with his arm. That's what we're looking for.”

Dunbar said all the quarterbacks have improved this spring.

“I think he's improved, I think all of them have gotten better,” he said. “That, to me, means the quarterback competition is going good.”


Seth Smith ran hard and ripped off some nice runs before leaving practice with an injury. He was on the sidelines later in practice with a bag of ice taped to his shoulder.


Defensively, linebacker B.J. Adolpho laid a couple big hits including one on Fleming on an option left. He also got in a nice lick on running back Victor Johnson along the sideline.

Davon House had an interception. Darrius Preston seemed to lose his footing and House went over him to make the pick in traffic.

Jonte Green also made a nice breakup on a deep pass intended for Preston along the sideline.


Zach Diaz, Jordan Davenport and Kyle Hughes all took turns handling field goals on Saturday.

Special teams coach Keith Murphy said the unit went 10-of-12 on FG attempts on the day.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Nelson comes through

Tight end Kyle Nelson made some tough grabs during Friday's Aggie spring football practice.

Nelson made three or four catches that stand out, two over the middle with the defender providing tight coverage. One of them went for a touchdown in the redzone.

The Aggie passing game needs a boost from its tight ends this season. Last year the team got just 17 catches from the position — consisting of Nelson, Kyle Hipp and Kenny Evora — for 137 yards and one touchdown. Nelson led the way with 13 grabs for 112 yards, but he suffered through drops and inconsistent play.

Physically — he stands at 6-foot-4, 221 pounds — Nelson fits the role. The team could line him up at the traditional tight end position or out wide as well, depending on matchups. He just needs to bring it to the field on Saturday's in the fall.

“He's got to do it during a game,” NMSU head coach DeWayne Walker said. “That's his nemesis. He had a good spring last year too and we love what he's doing now. He's got the potential to do some things in coach Dunbar's offense.”


The defensive backs unit could be the Aggies' strongest heading into the 2010 season.

Davon House looks more mature and people have spoken highly of Jonte Green this spring.

I spoke to Green last week and he said offseason conditioning with coach Gary Uribe was a key in his development, as he pushed himself in the weight room.

“Of course I'm shooting for All-WAC. I'm shooting for more than that too,” Green said. “I want to be the best cornerback in the nation. I'm playing hard and hoping it will fall into place.”

The one concern is at safety. Alfonso Powell returns, but Stephon Hatchett has sat out this spring to deal with academics.

Ben Bradley has stepped in this spring and could continue to see time in the fall if Hatchett can't get things turned around.


Walker spoke about his defense following Friday's practice.

“The offense has gotten most of the attention so far, and rightfully so,” he said. “Don't overlook our defense though.”

The DBs were looking good on Friday, as was the defensive line.

Walker spoke about the linebacker corps and how he's liked the development there. NMSU's top three backers at the moment are Boyblue Aoelua in the middle, Frank Padilla at strongside and B.J. Adolpho at weakside.

“We're faster on defense and I think we have a better football IQ there,” Walker said.

My feelings: Health is going to be paramount, particularly at the linebacker position. There just isn't much depth there.


Walker also spoke about the offense and what group will bring to the table.

“Our quarterbacks are better. They're playing better this year,” Walker said. “We've got (incoming recruits) Kenny Turner and Taveon Burke who we're hoping will come in and give us some juice.”

Walker called the offensive line's performance “steady” this spring. Tackles Dwayne Barton, Ruben Escargesa, guards Sioeli Fakalata and Mike Yocius and center Mike Grady have all taken snaps.

“It's always going to be a hard-charging unit under Jason (offensive line coach Jason Lenzmeier),” he said.


Looking ahead to fall practices, expect some newcomers to get an immediate chance to get out on the field.

Walker spoke last week about linebackers Anthony Joyner and Dylan Davis getting an opportunity for playing time as possible backups to start the season.

Defensive tackles Tommy Stuart and David Mahoney are going to take the field and be given a chance to perform.

Cornerback Darien Johnson, a true freshman, will get a look.

On the offensive line, look for tackle Aundre McGaskey to make an impact and guard Dylan Lusk to get some time as well.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Quarterbacks....Other practice notes

Tanner Rust didn't take as many snaps with the first-team offense during Wednesday's Aggie spring football practice.

Instead, it was Jeff Fleming and Matt Christian getting most of the action at the quarterback position.

“He's sitting at third right now,” Walker said of Rust. “Fleming and Christian are battling it out. But (Rust) is still there. He's still in the mix.”


Walker said, as of now, the team has 22 or 23 scholarships available, although he could use a handful of them before the 2010 season gets under way.

“Sure, I could get it down to 18, 19, 20 if I can get guys in that can help us win now,” Walker said of the team's scholarship count and how it could stack up following the season.

Walker also spoke about recruiting players from New Mexico. Walker said he would like many NM football players to come to NMSU, although attracting them to the school hasn't always been easy. He will continue to work at it, however.

“I want the best players in the state to come here,” he said. “History has shown otherwise. If I can get one, then that's a start. If I can get a bunch of them, that would be great.”


From the receivers position, coach R. Todd Littlejohn said that Marcus Allen and Darrius Preston have made the most progress this spring.

Taveon Burke is expected to be in the top-four on the depth chart when the fall season rolls around, while tight end Kyle Nelson could see action split out wide.

Todd Lee, while battling a hamstring injury, is expected to take the field at some point this spring.


Walker said the Aggies are looking at a couple possibilities at kickoff and punt returns this year.

At kickoffs, the team could go with Allen or Clay. Allen returned kicks last year for the Aggies.

On punts, Donyae Coleman and Lee will both get some looks.

In the kicking game, the team hopes junior college transfer Tyler Stampler can come in and handle the placekicking duties.

Kyle Hughes, who took over as the team's primary kicker and punter last season, should just take care of punts in 2010, which is a good thing. All-in-all, Hughes had a good year in 2010, but should be even better with a decreased work load.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

James Hall Jr. to WR; Linebacker shuffle

James Hall Jr. has been moved to wide receiver this spring as the Aggies hope they can utilize him in the passing game.

Hall, a graduate of Las Cruces High School, redshirted last season as a running back. NMSU returns Seth Smith to the backfield, along with Robert Clay and greyshirt running back Marquese Dunn. The Aggies will also bring in Kenny Turner this fall who is expected to compete for playing time in the backfield.

Hall has been moved to WR, where Walker said he believes he will be a good fit.

"He's a high-IQ player who we need to get out on the field," Walker said. "We think he'll be a good fit there."


The Aggies also made a personnel move on the defensive side of the ball, moving Frank Padilla to strongside linebacker where he is expected to start.

Padilla, a senior transfer from College of the Sequoias, was backing up Boyblue Aoelua at middle linebacker at the outset of spring practice. He will now be moved above Kenny Evora and Bryan Bonilla on the depth chart at the Sam position.

B.J. Adolpho remains at the weakside spot.

Walker said that NMSU will give Dylan Davis and Anthony Joyner a chance to compete for a backup position with the team in the fall. Davis and Jordan are both true freshmen who will suit up for the Aggies in August training camp. Walker said it is not a given that either will redshirt.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Wednesday morning practice

The passing game has been on target the last two practices I have attended.

Wednesday the unit showed a spark and the play of Jeff Fleming and Tanner Rust stood out to me.

Fleming has thrown the ball better downfield this spring and it showed on Wednesday. He went up top to Marcus Allen for a 43-yard pickup along the right sideline. Allen beat Davon House up the field and got separation on the deep ball to haul it in. Nice play on both sides.

Fleming also dropped a ball in over the middle to Spencer Diaz, who made the grab between three defenders for a 15-20 yard gain. It was a good throw that was placed in traffic.

Rust could be the darkhorse to win the starting job. He threw some touchdown passes, hitting Julius Fleming from 25-plus yards out for a TD during 7-on-7 drills and then firing to the back of the endzone to Ronny Torres for a TD during redzone drills. The offense was fired up.

I think this is Rust's biggest attribute, is his leadership abilities. He's a feisty guy who will speak his mind and plays the game with toughness. NMSU needs that from the quarterback position just as much as anything else.

Last week, Rust got on Allen after the receiver was slow to get back to the huddle after an incompletion downfield. Wednesday, after hitting Torres, he was one of the first players in on the celebration, jumping on the tight end's back and slapping his helmet. Nice to see a little fire!

There were bumps in the road as well. While the offense played well during redzone work at the tail end of practice — Rust's TD to Torres, Allen caught a TD as well — it came against the second-string secondary. So we'll take it with a grain of salt.

The receiving corps had problems with drops during 7-on-7 but got better as practice wore on. Joe Cordova had a drop early, but came back and made two nice grabs to the delight of coach R. Todd Littlejohn. Allen also had a good practice, beating House up top and then catching a TD later. That came after he missed a scoring catch earlier in the day.

“It's expected,” head coach DeWayne Walker said of Allen. “He's a go-to guy for us and a returning player at that. He has to make plays if we want to go places.”


There's been a lot of talk this spring about junior cornerback Jonte Green, who started all 13 games last season for the Aggies.

“I'm telling you man, Jonte Green's coming on,” Walker said. “He's going to be a player for us.”

New secondary coach Will Martin spoke about Green as well, and also talked about incoming safety Shamar Gaines, a New Jersey native who's transferring in from College of the Sequoias in California.

“He's going to be a contributor. He's going to push guys back there,” Martin said.

Martin came to NMSU after being defensive coordinator last season at College of the Desert. He met Walker seven years ago, when the Aggie head coach held a defensive backs camp as an assistant with the Washington Redskins.

“I interned with the San Diego Chargers, I've coached at a lot of different places, so this is nothing new for me,” Martin said. “I am happy about being here though. It's a good opportunity.”

Walker said that Martin is adjusting to a reduced role in terms of responsibility. For four years he was defensive coordinator at College of the Desert, as well as the school's recruiting coordinator from 2006-08.

“It's long overdue to be perfectly honest with you,” Walker said of Martin's chance to coach Division I football. “He did a good job on the high school level, a good job on the junior college level and we think he can do a good job here.

“He remained patient,” Walker continued. “He went to clinics, he networked and he deserved the opportunity. Hopefully he will be able to continue from here and keep building on his career.”


Offensive lineman Patrick Blount was seen walking around practice with a cast on his right foot.

Walker said Blount has a broken foot. Last year, in his junior season, Blount played in just two games, hobbled by plantar fasciitis.

He was listed as a starter on the spring depth chart at right tackle.

“He's a big body that could help us,” Walker said. “We've got to figure out a way to keep him healthy though.”

Friday, April 9, 2010

Aggie passing game

I realize it's the third day of spring practice. Saying it's early would be a massive understatement.

Now that I pointed that out, I will continue by writing that the Aggie passing attack struggled today.

Three quarterbacks took snaps — Jeff Fleming, Matt Christian and Tanner Rust. None threw the ball particularly well. Fleming showed good mobility and ran for some big gains. Rust displayed leadership skills. Trevor Walls did not get any snaps, at least from what I saw.

None were very accurate throwing the ball during seven-on-seven passing drills and some receivers missed balls.

Again, it's early — very early. If this were fall practice, it would be one thing. In the spring, it's a time for growth and maturation as the team learns a new offensive system under a new coordinator.

Still, the passing attack cannot be as bad as it was last year or the Aggies won't win games. Growth and development is imperative this time of the year. I would say all three QBs I mentioned are legit contenders to win the starting job. But someone has to separate themselves when it comes to throwing the ball accurately downfield.

Head coach DeWayne Walker said following practice that the team needs its quarterback to be tough, mistake free and play hard. They don't have to be Dan Marino, they just need to be a football player. This was a similar message to the one delivered last year by Walker, and it's true. Across the board.

“We don't need turnovers, we don't need mistakes,” Walker said. “Look at the teams that were in the NCAA Tournament. Duke and Butler, they didn't have the best, most talented players. But they played together and as a team. That's what we need.”

The Aggies will have skill at running back. Seth Smith looks good and Marquese Dunn was seen running the ball and laying some hits carrying the ball at practice on Friday. As I said in my last post, Robert Clay is getting touches. And Kenny Turner will be arriving in May. Looks like the Aggies will have a nice mix back there in 2010.

Even at fullback, they have Brandon Perez and Ronald Opetaia and both can bang as tough, smart football players. They even have a little wiggle when they get the ball in the open field.

And the offensive line will be a hard-working unit that will be able to open the holes necessary up front and protect the quarterback enough.

But NMSU needs some sort of a passing game to complement their ground attack. Last year NMSU topped 100 yards passing just four times and 200 yards just twice. This year, I think they need to be average 250 passing yards a game if they want to improve upon their three-win total of a season ago. And while its just spring ball, that development starts now. We'll see how it progresses from now until the spring game on May 1.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Spring practice report, 4/7

The following players participated in line drills during Wednesday morning's Aggie spring football practice:

Defensive ends: Pierre Fils, Donte Savage, Chance Roberts, David Niumatalolo, Anthony Smith.

Defensive tackles: Branden Warner, Kawika Shook, John Finau.

Shook is playing defensive tackle during spring ball but is expected to shift back to end in the fall and into the season when the team adds tackles David Mahoney and Tommy Stuart to the roster.

Offensive tackles: Dwayne Barton, Matt Passwaters

Offensive guards: Sioeli Fakalata, Mike Yocius

Center: Mike Grady


The first string linebacker corps was Boyblue Aoelua in the middle, Kenny Evora on the strongside and B.J. Adolpho on the weakside.

Bryan Bonilla (Sam), Frank Padilla (Mike) and David Quiroga (Will) are the primary backups.


The Aggies will have a lot of depth at running back this year. Robert Clay can play, but will he get lost in the shuffle? He's been getting carries the first two days of the spring.


From what I saw — I attended the second half of practice on Wednesday morning — the best passing play of the day was when Jeff Fleming playfaked and threw over the middle, connecting with backup receiver Joe Cordova for a 20-yard gain. Nice throw, nice grab by Cordova, who was covered but went to his knees to make the catch.

Other than that, the quarterbacks struggled. NMSU had two picks for touchdowns late in practice, with Donyae Coleman intercepting a Tanner Rust pass and taking it to the house. Moments later, Josh Smith picked a ball off and returned it. Didn't see which QB threw the second pick. Trevor Walls nearly threw a third on the last play of the drill.

Wind could have certainly played a factor, as it was blowing 10-15 MPH.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Stephon Hatchett

According to Aggie football head coach DeWayne Walker, safety Stephon Hatchett will not practice with the team the remainder of the spring to focus on academics.

Hatchett, the team's third leading tackler last year with 98 takedowns, began spring practices behind Ben Bradley on the depth chart. Walker mentioned last week that Hatchett had some academic problems during the offseason.

Obviously this is a good move for the Aggies. Does spring practice make a huge difference? Not for a player who started every game last season in the same defensive system that will be ran in 2010. And NMSU doesn't have the depth to lose any key players to academics. Hatchett needs to get his act in order, and this allows him opportunity.

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Littlejohn effect

One thing stood out to me above all else at the first day of Aggie spring football practice: R. Todd Littlejohn and his coaching of the wide receivers.

I believe Littlejohn's presence within this unit will make a big difference. Here's why:

Last season, Littlejohn coached cornerbacks for NMSU and did a nice job. Davon House was named to the All-WAC team, recording 68 tackles, three interceptions, broke up 13 passes and recovered a fumble. House became a better tackler and took his game to the next level as an All-Conference player. Certainly the position coach deserves some credit in the player's performance.

Littlejohn also oversaw the development of first-year starter Jonte Green, who finished fourth on the team last season with 74 tackles and broke up eight balls. Littlejohn also coached two players — senior Chris Buckner and sophomore Donyae Coleman — who made transitions from wide receiver to cornerback and both held their own during the season. Buckner finished the season with 41 tackles, a sack and a pick while Coleman made the midseason switch from offense to defense, making seven tackles and recording a sack.

Littlejohn showed his fire early last season, as an intense coach on the field with a hands-on approach during practice. Constantly teaching, constantly encouraging. Sometimes he put his arm around a player, and sometimes he kicked them in the behind. And there was always energy and enthusiasm.

This offseason, NMSU head coach DeWayne Walker moved Littlejohn to wide receivers in hopes of jumpstarting a unit that never got going in 2009. The first day of spring practice showed that Littlejohn brought the same coaching style that he displayed last year to the offensive side of the ball.

When Darrius Preston fell down on a route, it was Littlejohn who told him to hustle back to the huddle. When Marcus Allen went downlow to make a tough grab over the middle, Littlejohn ran up to him and gave him five, fired up about a player making a hard catch. When tight end Ronny Torres caught a short ball and got bogged down in traffic, Littlejohn was shouting at him to get upfield after the play was blown dead. Jeremy Little's catch over the middle while being covered tightly by Michael Zant was welcomed by Littlejohn running 25 yards downfield to greet the receiver, applauding him for his concentration.

The point is that the Aggies need to play with a fire and with an overachieving mentality across to board. I believe Littlejohn can make that happen with a wide receivers unit that NMSU needs to produce. He's going to bring tenacity and fire. NMSU has two coaches like this on offense — Littlejohn and offensive line coach Jason Lenzmeier.

From a production standpoint, I think the Aggie receivers will be better in 2010.

For what its worth: It's the first day of spring practice. But here were some things I saw:

• Tight end Kyle Nelson caught a deep ball over the middle. The tight end position needs to be a factor this year for the Aggies. It wasn't in 2009.

• Kenny Evora, who was moved from tight end to linebacker in the offseason, broke up one pass along the right side that picked off by Alfonso Powell. The next play, Evora recovered a fumble.

The 6-foot-4, 236 pound senior is penciled in as the starting strongside linebacker this spring.