The opening day of Aggie football practice went down on Monday, and a couple of observations to take away.
For starters, I did a story on the secondary, which could very well be the key to NMSU's defense this year. The Aggies replace four good players back there from a season ago (Jonte Green, Courtney Viney, Donyae Coleman and Ben Bradley). For all intents and purposes, it was the strength of NMSU's defense in 2011.
This year I do think there's talent and athleticism in the defensive backfield, albeit unproven.
Cornerback Darien Johnson is undersized, yet can cover. Safety Justin Smith played well last year when he saw the field — he had a 13-tackle performance against Fresno State.
Junior college transfers Cameron Fuller (cornerback) and Dele Junaid (safety) have looked good.
Jeremy Harris and George Callender have played well in spurts — just being honest, Harris got torched late last season in some games, and Callender needs to stay healthy.
Still, those guys will be asked to play bigger roles in 2012.
With all that being said, the defensive secondary has historically been a strong point throughout DeWayne Walker's three-plus years with the Aggie program, and I expect it to be OK once again this year. At the very least, I know it will be well coached and improve as the season moves along.
With that being said, if and when it comes around, it could be the key to an improved Aggie defense.
This team has some building blocks on its front seven. Two All-WAC caliber players are on the defensive line, that being end Donte Savage and tackle Walton Taumoepeau. Alexander LaVoy was moved from middle linebacker to defensive end this past spring.
At linebacker, junior college transfer Trashaun Nixon looked like a player during spring ball at weakside linebacker. The team also brings back veteran B.J. Adolpho, and returning starter Bryan Bonilla was solid last year. That, and Savage — who really has the potential to be an excellent player — could easily line up at linebacker as well (it very well could be his natural position).
They have a new coordinator in David Elson, and Walker will play a bigger role coaching on that side of the ball in 2012.
A quote from defensive backs coach Mike Rutenberg on if it feels different on that side of the ball, as fall camp officially opened on Monday:
“It does, it does. I see a lot of enthusiasm. Coach Elson's brought a great positive attitude, a lot of excitement and enthusiasm. I'm really enjoying this group of guys.”
Offensively, there are still question marks (at least in my mind).
As stated in prior blog posts, the offensive line has to replace three starters, protect Andrew Manley, and open up holes in the running game.
Overall, the unit has to replace its top-two gamebreakers from a season ago in wide receiver Taveon Rogers and running back Kenny Turner.
There is a new coordinator in Jerry McManus, who's in his first year as a coordinator and full-time play caller.
I do think the offense has three potential All-WAC players — Manley, left tackle Davonte Wallace, and wide receiver Austin Franklin.
All in all, I think if the offense produces at the same level as last year, the Aggies will be in good position by the end of the season.
I do think Andrew McDonald could fill in for Manley if it came down to it. And I would think the team would prefer to redshirt sophomore quarterback Travaughn Colwell.
Running back is a position to keep a close eye on during fall camp.
Veteran Robert Clay is back.
Junior college transfer Tiger Powell is, basically, a bigger version of Clay.
Akeelie Mustafa is quick and can get outside the tackles — some big-play punch.
Ditto for Germi Morrison, who returns after sitting out last year with foot injury.
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