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.