Are you ready for some football?
New Mexico State University is, opening fall practice today at Aggie Memorial Stadium.
Practice runs from 3-5 p.m. today and is open to the public.
The highlights entering fall camp? Easy.
The team is entering the second year of the DeWayne Walker era, new coordinator Mike Dunbar hopes to jumpstart the team’s punchless offense and the defensive unit is primed to take another step forward in Walker’s system.
That, and a handful of other story lines are present with the new season right around the corner.
The following are five things to keep an eye on heading into NMSU training camp, and throughout the 2010 campaign.
1) New offense in place: Last year, the Aggies weren’t just bad on offense, they were unwatchable.
Enter Dunbar, a veteran coach of over 20 years who will look to get the unit up and moving.
Don’t expect NMSU to look much different in style — the team will be multiple in formation, similar to last year, and will run an assortment of looks, from four-wide receiver shotgun sets, to two tight-end, two running back packages.
Last year, the running game was fine — starter Seth Smith barreled for over 1,000 yards — and should continue to hum with the addition of speedster Kenny Turner and the return of injured fullback Brandon Perez.
The passing game is another story....
2) The passing game: Make no mistake, while Dunbar was brought in to resurrect the offense, his top chore will be getting the passing game — one of the worst in the nation last year — off the ground.
It starts at quarterback, where it appears the competition has come down to last year’s starter Jeff Fleming and junior college transfer Matt Christian.
Both bring different styles to the table, with Fleming a mobile athlete who can create outside the pocket and Christian more of a pure passer from under center.
Redshirt freshman Tanner Rust and true freshman Andrew Manley also figure to be in the mix.
The wide receiver position also needs a boost. Marcus Allen flashed his talent during the spring and could be the team’s No. 1 target entering his senior season. Todd Lee is small — 5-foot-9, 161 pounds — but has speed to burn, while newcomer Taveon Rogers is expected to come in and be top-four on the depth chart.
3) Linebacker: In Walker’s system, the front-four needs to apply pressure and clog running lanes while the secondary requires pure cover corners on the outside.
The linebackers need to be workmen, pure and simple.
And while last year’s linebacking corps — Jason Scott, Ross Conner, Jahmar Cotton and Sam King — were all senior leaders who played hard week-in and week-out, the coaching staff believes it’s upgraded in this department for 2010.
The jury’s still out, however.
Frank Padilla was brought in from College of the Sequoias and has nice size — 6-2, 248. He will step in and start along the strongside.
B.J. Adolpho was the team’s top practice squad player last year and will step in at weakside linebacker. Adolpho is a missile who throws his body around with reckless abandon, but he lacks experience.
In the middle, Boyblue Aoelua goes from strictly a special teams player to MIKE linebacker in Walker’s system. It will be a big responsibility.
Behind the starting three, depth is a concern.
4) Special teams: The Aggies were much improved in the kicking game last year. They’ll need to be again.
Punter Kyle Hughes could never get his grades together and will not be back in 2010. Normally it wouldn’t be a problem, but Hughes had an NFL-caliber leg and played a huge role in two of the Aggies’ three wins last year. He also was the team’s primary placekicker.
Tanner Rust, who’s listed as a quarterback on the depth chart, and newcomer Jake Capraro will compete for the punting job.
The team brought in Tyler Stampler this offseason to be the primary placekicker.
The return game started strong in 2010 before tailing off down the stretch.
Wide receivers Marcus Allen and Todd Lee returned kicks last year as did defensive back Donyae Coleman. All three should be in the mix to do so again, along with receiver Taveon Rogers.
5) Injury free: Last year, NMSU kept most of its heavy artillery on the field. They can only hope to be so lucky in 2010.
Running back Seth Smith played half of 2009 with a separated right shoulder, but remained solid throughout the season. His physical style not only pounds opposing defenses, but it also results in big hits on the 5-foot-8, 207-pound back.
Starting defensive ends Pierre Fils and Donte Savage played virtually every down last year, and turned in productive seasons. They’ll have to do so again, with limited depth to relieve them.
All three starting linebackers need to remain healthy, as does the secondary and offensive line. Good luck with that.
Aggie fall practice schedule
* Practice sessions are free and open to the public. The team will start practicing in full pads on Aug. 15. Preseason practices will continue throughout next month, leading up to the team’s opening game on Sept. 11, at home against San Diego State.
August 11th, 3-5 p.m. (Helmets only)
August 12th, 3-5 p.m. (Helmets only)
August 13th, 3-5 p.m. (Shells)
August 14th, 3-5 p.m. (Shells)
August 15th, 3-5 p.m. (Full pads)
August 16th, 9:15-11:30 a.m. (Shells); 3:30-5:30 p.m. (Full pads)
August 17th, 3-5 p.m. (Full pads)
August 18th, 9:15-11:30 a.m. (Shells); 3:30-5:30 p.m. (Full pads)
August 20th, 3:50-5:50 p.m. (Full pads)
August 21st, 11 a.m.-1 p.m. (Scrimmage)
August 23rd, 3:50-5:50 p.m. (Full pads)
August 24th, 3:50-5:50 p.m. (Full pads)
August 25th, 3:50-5:50 p.m. (Full pads)
August 26th, 3:50-5:50 p.m. (Full pads)
August 27th, 3:50-5:50 p.m. (Full pads)
August 28th, 11 a.m.-1 p.m. (Scrimmage)
By the numbers
8: Players on the current Aggie roster from New Mexico. Three players — kicker Zach Diaz, wide receiver James Hall Jr. and tight end Spencer Diaz — are from Las Cruces.
21: Years of coaching experience for new Aggie offensive coordinator Mike Dunbar. Dunbar began his career in 1987 as the head coach at Central Washington University. Most recently, he was offensive coordinator at the University of Minnesota.
13: Pass breakups last season by Aggie cornerback Davon House. House also intercepted three passes and recorded 68 tackles, making first-team All-WAC in the process.
4: Quarterbacks vying for the starting job at the outset of Aggie fall camp today. Junior college transfer Matt Christian and last year’s starter Jeff Fleming appear to be the front runners, with Tanner Rust and Andrew Manley also in the mix.
0: Bye weeks for the Aggies this season. The team will start a week later than most programs — Sept. 1. NMSU will play every weekend from there on out, wrapping up its season Nov. 27 against Hawaii.