Monday, April 29, 2013

Quarterback race: An even competition

At this point of Aggie spring football practices, don't expect a declaration or clear-cut winner at the starting quarterback position. It's not deception, just fact: The race for the QB position appears to remain dead-even, and wide-open, entering the final week of spring practices.

We'll start with Andrew Manley, because it's proven to be a good story amongst the three competitors (of course, the candidates are Manley, Travaughn Colwell and Andrew McDonald). The general assumption was that Manley wouldn't be a great fit for the offense installed by new offensive coordinator Gregg Brandon, because the junior quarterback will never be confused as a mobile player in the offensive backfield. But he's adapted to the system the best he can — he's lost weight, and has provided a little movement in the pocket. Most importantly, Manley is doing what he does best — throwing the football — at a very effective rate, and looks good doing so.

I tip my hat to him whether he comes out on top or not, because he's displayed leadership — adapting while going right after the quarterback competition.

In terms of mobility, Colwell clearly brings that to the table, and probably runs the option-offense best of all three. Yet while athletic, Colwell remains inconsistent as a passer to this point.

And then McDonald, a player who's in the middle of Manley's and Colwell's skill sets — the lone senior, he can run the offense, while bringing better foot speed than Manley on the ground, and more consistent accuracy than Colwell in the passing game.

In general, the Aggie offense is much improved schematically this spring, and will be more exciting in 2013. Last year the quarterback position was mismanaged, and was a microcosm of the entire offense (one could make the argument it was a lost year for all three QBs currently competing for the starter's job). But this spring, it would seem the three are receiving the best coaching they've had at NMSU, and it should pay dividends.

Perhaps Saturday's spring game will allow a QB or two to emerge in the race. But so far, it's looked to be an even competition.


I will also say this: To me, the jury remains out on the Aggie defense.

Ironically, I do not think it's from a skill standpoint, because it would appear there's improved personnel on the defensive line (Matt Ramondo, Willie Mobley to name a couple upgraded players amongst the down-linemen).

The question here does comes down to scheme, however (bear in mind, Ramondo is being held out currently with an ankle injury, although it does not appear to be serious).

The Aggies are playing a one-gap, slanting style along the defensive front, designed to get quick players up field and apply pressure on the opposing quarterback. Such a philosophy can create the big play on defense — arrant throws, resulting in interceptions to defensive backs in zone coverage. But that can also leave such a defense vulnerable to the big play as well.

We'll bring it into view by observing 2013 spring practices, where NMSU's offense has ran the ball very effectively. Of course, running backs Germi Morrison and Brandon Betancourt have looked good doing so (and we did talk about an improved offensive system), but in turn, what does this say about the Aggies run defense?

After all, NMSU averaged just 3.0 yards per carry all of last year, and while it's offensive line has some solid players, it also has some holes to it as well. Yet it's been a pattern virtually every spring scrimmage: Aggie backs ripping off runs to the second and third levels of the defense.

In a nutshell, they're finding an open gap up front, and it could mean trouble if such a trend continues heading into a 2013 independent schedule.

Some weekend stories

Some attention-grabbers from over the weekend, that surely we'll have commentary on over the coming days. Click on the headlines below to go directly to the stories at the LCSN website:

NMSU presidential candidate Garrey Carruthers tells forum participants he's open to dropping football

Jeremy Harris became the third Aggie cornerback in three years to be selected in the NFL Draft, and will reunite with former head coach DeWayne Walker

Follow me on Twitter @TeddyFeinberg

Friday, April 26, 2013

Q&A: Clint Barnard goes from 8-man football, to playing middle linebacker for the Aggies

From the very first day of 2013 Aggie spring football practices, there was an eye-catching turn of events in the middle of New Mexico State's defense.

A new middle linebacker running with the first-team, No. 48 on his jersey. A look at the roster had him listed as Clint Barnard, a 6-foot-2, 215-pound redshirt sophomore. His hometown: Melrose, NM, located in the eastern part of the state, 20 miles west of Clovis. It's home of the Buffaloes, a high school program that plays eight-man football, competing against the likes of Carrizozo, Gateway Christian, Tatum and Floyd.

Barnard, who was on NMSU's scout team a season ago, has looked good this spring, and said he expects to receive a scholarship this fall.

Following a recent practice, we sat down and talked to him about his journey to NMSU, and his transition from small-town New Mexico high school football to the Division-I gridiron:

Sun-News: What position did you play in high school?
Clint Barnard: "Being an (eight-man) school we played both ways. So I played quarterback and linebacker."

SN: You were part of some successful teams?
CB: "My junior and senior year, we were 13-0 both seasons. We had a 26-game (winning) streak my junior and senior years with two state championships. I was also the New Mexico Player of the Year for my division two years running."

SN: What were your stats in high school?
CB: "My junior year, I don't know my defensive stats. Offensive stats I know I threw for over 3,000 yards, had over 20 touchdowns on the ground and over 20 in the air. Actually, my senior year, the rushing went up and the passing went down."

SN: And you come from an athletic family?
CB: "I've got two younger sisters, one is 18 right now, she was a senior, and one is 16. They were on the (Melrose) state championship basketball team in 2012. They got to the state championship game again this year, and lost. .... Apparently, my little brother who's an eighth grader, he dunked it. He's going to be the basketball player I think."

SN: Talk about your journey. How did you get to NMSU?
CB: "When I was in high school, being from a small school, I wasn't recruited very heavily by any D-I schools. I had several D-II schools: West Texas; Eastern, New Mexico; New Mexico Highlands; Western New Mexico. All the local D-II schools, they were recruiting me. I ended up accepting a scholarship to go to New Mexico Highlands, actually as a quarterback. My first year there, I was redshirted. I traveled with the team, but I never played .... They moved me to linebacker. . I played all three linebacker positions there. I started, I think seven games. Had 50-something tackles, five or six sacks . Our quarterbacks ended up getting hurt, and I had to play on offense as a quarterback for the last two, three games of the season. Then I got moved from linebacker to that. After that, I just really had a hard decision to make. I really felt like I wasn't satisfied with where I was. I wanted a better academic curriculum (Barnard's a biology major and a minor in biochemistry). That's when I kind of poked around to see if anybody was welcoming to let someone like me in. I knew if I went to D-I, I'd have to sit out a year. The NCAA rules from the D-II to a D-I (transfer), you usually have to sit out. But I always wanted to be a Division-I player . I wanted to prove to myself and to others that I could do it. I felt like I had accomplished that. When I came here and I talked to (recruiting coordinator R. Todd Littlejohn) .... He got me on the preferred walk-ons list. Go to camp last year, I went all through camp, all through the season last year. I just worked hard, I did everything right. That's the position I'm in now for the spring."

SN: If you go to a Las Cruces, Oñate or Mayfield, you're going to be known. Obviously that's not really the case playing eight-man. How did that affect your recruiting?
CB: "Not many people or that many coaches pay attention to eight-man games. If (they) do, you have to be a complete standout. Which I thought, if anybody could be a standout, I would have been the one. UNM, they had a coach my senior year come talk to me. I was on their list, but they never offered .... Other than that, I don't think there was any Division I that even took the look or called my coach. The thing about that, my coach, he never really had dealt with people that had college potential. He didn't have the contacts for coaches, or D-I coaches. He had several D-II coaches to contacts, but as far as higher up .... he'd never done that before. He's not as connected as the coaches would be for the big schools. . Even though you have all these awards and statistics and stuff you have, it doesn't do you any good if you never get your name out there. It's more publicizing yourself than anything."

SN: Coming from a small school and being overlooked, is that motivation for yourself personally?
CB: "I've always been that type of person that kind of plays with a chip on my shoulder, with something to prove. Everything I've had, I've earned. I haven't ever been given anything. When I first came out here, I wanted to prove to myself, for one, that I could do it. And, two, to the coaches that I could do it. I'm still doing it right now. Still in the process."

SN: Do you want to prove small-school players can play college football?
CB: "I've thought about that quite a bit. I have my two roommates I graduated with in high school. They tell me all the time, they would love to be in my shoes. They would love to have the physical ability to do what I do. A lot of times, those small-town (kids), they have dreams just like any other kid. How many of those small-town kids get to live their dream? Get to do the things that bigger-city kids get to do? Not many. When someone does get the chance, does have the ability, it just seems like a shame to waste it. I keep that in mind. I want to be able to go back to there, if there's that kid that's in the sixth grade that really wants something that's his dream, say 'hey, go after it. You can prove it. You can do it.'"

SN: At Melrose, what't the typical opposing offense you're seeing? From a pass standpoint and run standpoint?
CB: "The coverages, they're completely different. But it's still football. You still have your gap as far as the run game goes. You know where there's A, B or C (gap). That's all the same .... The pass coverage and the concepts of the pass defense are the most dynamic and difficult for me to understand. We played man most of the time (at Melrose) - you have to in eight man. . I did that at Highlands. That's where I got my experience, being able to understand more about that. That was my first, real 11-man pass coverage and really understanding it. That helped me when I got here. I wasn't completely in the dark. . I have the size. The height, the build. Just have to put on a little bit more weight. I have the speed."

SN: We hear all the time, high school to Division-I football, speed and size is a big adjustment. How about from your standpoint?
CB: "When I was in high school, the average offensive lineman I was going against was smaller than me. Or just a little bit bigger than me. And definitely not as fast. To be honest with you, in high school I didn't need any technique. I was just that much more stronger, faster than anyone else. But when you get to these monsters, 300-pound guys that can move .. You've got to learn technique. You have to be very technical about everything you do."

SN: What's the one thing in particular you have to get better at? Run stopping, pass coverage, adding additional weight?
CB: "A little extra weight, I think. The strength and conditioning coaches here want me to get up to 240, and I'm at, like, 234. It's not a whole big weight gain. But that's going to help me . the little extra pounds can help when I get pushed down by 300-plus linemen from Texas. The toughness, I've never had a problem with. The whole concepts of the defense I need to get better at, as far as the pass coverage. A lot of the pass coverage, understanding pass coverage and the run game. Understanding where I need to fit at a particular call, at a particular play. Just getting used to that so I don't have to think all that much, I just react."

SN: What's the one reason you've made it this far?
CB: "My work ethic. I got it from my family. .... My great granddad, he was just a ranch foreman . He taught my granddad his work ethic, my dad his work ethic. We have a place down there by (Melrose) that we own now. I've worked there over my summers most of the time. It really instilled in me a great work ethic. It comes along with it, you've got a little bit of stuborness and a little bit of not wanting to take no for an answer. But sometimes I think you need that. Especially in this game. You need that type of attitude. That's probably the one thing that's really helped me along. And not accepting failure."

SN: You're running with the ones right now. I take it you don't intend to leave your spot on the depth chart?
CB: "No. I do not."

Follow me on Twitter @TeddyFeinberg

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Q&A: Leading off with Aggie senior softball player Amber Olive

(A positive presence, Amber Olive often plays the game with a smile on her face/Photo by Robin Zielinski)

One of four seniors on this year's New Mexico State softball team, left fielder Amber Olive is also a standout away from the field.

Her 2013 numbers speak loudly: A team-high 68 hits, a .405 batting average, 15 stolen bases and 32 runs scored. With a 13-2 conference record, the Aggies sit atop the WAC standings, a game ahead of second-place San Jose State.

But Olive's also made her mark away from the diamond: An integral member of a softball program that leads all Aggie sports in community service hours, a 3.886 Grade Point Average as a double-major student in communication studies and psychology, and named Outstanding Scholar Athlete during the Aggies 2013 Spring Commencement.

Just prior to NMSU's final home series of the 2013 season, we sat down and spoke with the Simi Valley, Calf. native about her Aggie career's past, present and future. For Aggie softball senior capsules, click here.

Sun-News: Talk about hitting leadoff and the responsibility that comes with that particular spot?
Amber Olive: "Your job is to get on any way you can. There's a lot of emphasis put on that. There's a lot of pressure sometimes because you start the engine. You'll get the most at bats in the lineup, so you have the most opportunities to keep the fire going."

SN: Is leadoff the most important spot in a softball batting order?
AO: "In softball, because of how short our game is, every spot has it's own job and every job is very important. They're all different. Leadoff just happens to be that you get to start the game and continue to make things happen. When they turn the lineup over, your role changes. .... when you have runners on base, your job does change to more of a get on base and try to get a run in. I think every spot in the lineup has it's own job. Just because of the duration of our game and how fast things happen, every spot is key."

SN: It's a young team this year. What's it like being a senior and bringing along younger teammates?
AO: "As a senior, you can see and feel the experience .... What you see on some of the other kid's faces that haven't been in that spot is, they don't know what's going to happen. With us (the four Aggie seniors), it's knowing that's part of the game and being able to really just (have) trust in yourself. (The underclassmen) have the talent. .... We can see their talent. They just don't know it yet. That's the fun part, it's also kind of frustrating, when they get scared and you're like 'you can do this.'"

SN: Do you consider it part of your job? To help bring those young players along?
AO: "Definitely. Definitely. And once they get old enough to see it, they're going to bring it to their younger classmen too. I guess the best part of my job is, when they have Emma (Adams) in the nine spot, her being a freshman, and being able to calm her down in the box, being in the on-deck circle, talking to her. And her just producing like crazy."

SN: How loose is the team right now? Is there pressure to seal the deal in conference?
AO: "The big part about this team is, we haven't really focused on what's beyond the next game. I think that's really helped us a lot, because that's kept us off the radar and really just focused in on one game at a time. I don't think there's really any pressure other than going into this next game and really getting ready and prepared for this next game. We're not really loose, we're not really stressed, we're just kind of us."

SN: Two years ago you had a very good team that reached the NCAA Tournament. Does this year's team have the potential to not just accomplish that, but also take the next step forward and advance in the postseason?
AO: "Yes .... If I could put myself outside of this team, they definitely have the talent. .... The girls, especially the sophomore class and the freshman class coming up .... If they can just even tap into a little bit of what they have right now, we're going to go a long way."

SN: The 2011 team was very talented, a power-hitting team. This year's club is balanced, a little more station-to-station, a little more small ball. What's it been like playing on two different teams that have both found success?
AO: "I think the 2011 team that we were a part of had a really tight-nit group that was based on power. Two slap hitters at the top of the lineup that could both mash as well. The one thing with them was they all worked together in their own way. We all got to kind of watch them take lead and their leadership role to a (NCAA) regional position. With this team, we all kind of utilize the strengths of each other, which is a lot different than two years prior, where we all kind of just relied on the long ball and people hitting that home run when we needed it. This time, we need people to get on base. We draw on the strengths of each other to get the job done. Which is really good. You need that in a team."

SN: Two former Aggie outfielders - Tiare Jennings and Kandis Jones - were very good here when you were a younger player. Did you learn anything in particular from them?
AO: "They kind of set the foundation of what our outfield lives up to today. Pretty much, no ball drops. If it comes into our field, they're done. We got that from Tiarre, her kind of cockiness. No one's better than us on this field. We kind of set the tone out there. With Kandis, she was just kind of the silent but deadly type. We learned a lot from her, just kind of being stealth."

SN: You've put a major emphasis on your academics and community work during your time here. Talk about being heavily involved in those areas.
AO: "Academics is a given. This is what we're here for, it's what's going to get us into the real world. My stance on academics is, the material you're learning is not to pass or fail, you're supposed to learn it. No teacher's making a test, just for you to fail. None of my teachers have .... Community service, it's a great way to get our name out there, but also to give back. .... That's just an awesome experience. Building those connections and ties - I got to run community service for our team this year, it was just priceless. A lot of people willing to work with our team because we've come out and worked in support of them, and what they wanted to do. I think it kind of raises the bar for athletics here, what we do in softball and how involved we are in the community. It really sheds a positive light on us."

SN: What are your plans after NMSU?
AO: "Well, I heard my mom and dad miss me so I'm going to go back out there for a little bit. Hang out with my mom and dad, and grandparents."

Weekend series
Who: Seattle (19-24 overall, 7-8 in the WAC) at NMSU (32-15 overall, 13-2 in the WAC)
What: WAC softball series; senior weekend
Where: NMSU Softball Complex
When: Friday's game is scheduled for 6 p.m., while a Saturday doubleheader is scheduled to begin at 4 p.m.
If you can't make it: Friday's game can be heard on radio at KSNM-AM 570. Saturday's opener will be televised on AggieVision.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

VIDEOS: Doug Martin talks Aggie QB competition

New Mexico State's head football coach says tam's starting quarterback won't be determined until after spring, and perhaps not until fall camp. Also, video interviews with offensive lineman Andy Cunningham on reaching his potential in this his sophomore season, and wide receiver Joseph Matthews, who continued his impressive spring with a beautiful one-handed grab during Saturday's practice:

Trout falls to Alvarez in unanimous decision

(Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez, left, lands a punch on Austin Trout during the 12th round of their 154-pound unification title bout Saturday/Associated Press photo)

Austin Trout, the Las Cruces boxer, lost to Canelo Alvarez on unanimous decision Saturday night in San Antonio, Texas.

The humbling truth is that it wasn't incredibly surprising: Alvarez is a power puncher, Trout a finesse fighter. Considering such, Trout would have had to likely take the fight the distance and hope a decision would go in his favor when all was said and done.

With that as the backdrop, Trout was also fighting an uphill battle via the decision makers. Three of four officials (three judges and referee) represented the WBC (Alvarez was the WBC junior middleweight champion entering the fight). The match was also in San Antonio, Texas, giving Alvarez the home advantage on his side. In other words, not only would Trout likely have to take the fight a full 12 rounds, he'd also have to win in convincing fashion for a decision to go his way.

That's not to say Alvarez didn't win the fight outright, because it appeared he did (even if it was closer than some cards would have suggested). He's a quality fighter, and it showed it Saturday against an underdog.

Follow me on Twitter @TeddyFeinberg

Friday, April 19, 2013

VIDEO: Teddy and Brook Show (4/18)

Las Cruces Sun-News sports duo comes to you from a new location. We preview Austin Trout vs. Canelo Alvarez's championship fight, as well as look back on the week that was local sports:

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

VIDEO: Aggie football lightens mood in practice

The New Mexico State football team broke out in a game of dodgeball Tuesday, in part to lighten the mood following cornerback Miles Washington's neck injury this past weekend during spring practice.

"We've all had a tough week here. Players, coaches, everybody," said head coach Doug Martin said. "I wanted to ease the players back into practice and I also wanted them to come out here and have some fun. Be able to laugh and smile a little bit."

Washington's recovering from surgery at University Medical Center in El Paso. It's believed he suffered a cervical fracture, and his condition following the injury — he could talk and move his arms, although had no movement in his lower extremities — remains the same. For a story following Tuesday's practice, click here.

Other stories on the recent injury can be found here, and here.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Updated stories on Miles Washington's status

At this point, I'm sure most have heard of Aggie football player Miles Washington suffering a serious neck injury during Saturday's Aggie spring football practice.

Here are two recent stories written in the LCSN regarding Washington's health:

For an initial report, click here.

For a follow story that appeared in Sunday's online edition and Monday's newspaper, which indicates Washington likely suffered a cervical fracture, click here.

It's obviously a sensitive story and we're all hoping and praying for Miles' full recovery. We'll keep you up to date on his condition as we learn more.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

TEDDY AND BROOK SHOW: Aggie softball in first place, baseball looking to make WAC run

Las Cruces Sun-News sports duo also talks high school sports, tries to predict wins for Aggie football in 2013:

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Observations from Week 1 of Aggie spring football practices

(VIDEO: NMSU head coach Doug Martin talks about spring practices thus far following Saturday's session)

Some early outtakes from New Mexico State spring football drills:

• The Aggies are going to be well coached on the offensive side of the ball in 2013.

This should have been the assumption to begin with, as Doug Martin returned originally as offensive coordinator, and then eventually named head coach.

But Martin has done himself well by hiring an experienced coordinator, Gregg Brandon, to run the Aggie attack.

Last year the Aggies tried to be something they weren't capable of — a drop-back, pocket-passing team with a between-the-tackles rushing attack. What we all found out was they didn't have the horsepower to pull off such a gameplan.

Brandon, on the other hand, will try to accentuate what his personnel does well, while attempting to shield its weaknesses.

The Aggies have opened the playbook during the first week of spring practices. In place is the zone-read, the quarterback-option run game, and pistol formation. Bootlegs and rollouts are part of the team's attack. This gets the quarterback on the move, and can help an offensive line in pass protection.

Last year's bowl prognostications by some (which didn't come from this blog, mind you) were far too ambitious. Still, the team's 1-11 campaign was brutally disappointing. But I'll also stand by this: With a capable offensive attack, the Aggies would have won four or five games last season.

Reaching such numbers in 2013 will be daunting while playing an independent schedule. But I do see the team topping last year's win total, specifically because they'll have a competent offensive plan in place.

• Defensively, the Aggies have some talent to work with.

We'll start on the defensive line, where two rare players take the field for a New Mexico State team: Defensive linemen Matt Ramondo and Willie Mobley.

Both are BCS-level talents — Ramondo, a former Mayfield Trojan in his high school days, was a redshirt at Michigan State two years ago before transferring to NMSU; Mobley began his college career at Ohio State, would eventually transfer to Arizona, and is now with the Aggies as a fifth-year senior.

Both have looked impressive this spring, with Martin calling them team leaders, saying specifically of Ramondo “(he's) one of the best leaders we have on the football team. He loves being back here. You can tell he's playing with a lot of passion. He's physically gifted. He's going to be a presence in there for us.”

For those wondering, Ramondo will start at the nose guard position in the 3-4 defense, the most important position on the line, and reserved for the unit's top player. Defensive coordinator David Elson said his team won't play a two-gap system — where the nose guard would have to read the center and decide to either go right or left upon the snap. But Ramondo will still have to command a double team inside, and get upfield as much as possible.

• Trashaun Nixon will be playing outside linebacker for the Aggie defense (another key position in the 3-4, reserved for a dynamic player). Nixon is best suited when blitzing, and said last week that he'd rush the passer more in 2013.

Playing off that, Elson said, “I can assure you that we'll be a more blitz-oriented team than we have been in the past.”

• The team will need to develop a number of linebackers if they want to run a 3-4 front.

Kalei Auelua and Stephen Meredith are essentially playing outside linebacker/defensive end — the boundary linebacker position, according to Elson. Nixon is on the opposite outside — the field linebacker — while inside are senior Bryan Bonilla and Melrose, NM native Clint Barnard. Oñate graduate and former New Mexico Lobo Zach Daugherty will also be in the mix inside, as will sophomore Robert Wagner.

The Aggies also had four high school players in their 2013 signing class who will join the team this fall at the linebacker position.

• The Aggie secondary returns experience and has brought in some talent in recent years.

Returning contributors at cornerback are Darien Johnson and Cameron Fuller, and the safety duo of Davis Cazares and George Callender has potential.

One thing the unit could very well miss this year is DeWayne Walker, who can flat-out coach a defensive backfield. Frankly, the position group has been the team's strength in recent years.

• The last time NMSU gave up less than 400 yards of total offense per game was in 2002 — which, not coincidentally, was the last time the Aggies had a winning season. Again, such a goal would be extreme while playing an independent schedule, but against teams the Aggies should compete with (UTEP, UNM, Idaho for example), it's a good statistic to keep an eye on.

Some holes worth monitoring

• Depth at running back: Germi Morrison returns to the Aggie backfield, but he is the only proven running back on the field for 2013 spring practices.

Two junior college transfers from a season ago — Akeelie Mustafa (who seldom played with the Aggies) and Tiger Powell (who had a tough running style) — aren't back with the program this year.

That makes depth behind Morrison extremely thin.

Yolandus Pratt, a senior from Hudson Valley Community College, has shown some ability during spring drills, and could be utilized as a short-yardage and goal-line back.

Behind that are two local high school products in Brandon Betancourt and Xavier Hall. Betancourt has a nice burst when getting to the second level, but hasn't established himself full-time in the college game. In past years, Betancourt has had to improve on his strength and in pass blocking.

Hall was a grayshirt last year who is participating in spring practices for the first time as a collegiate player.

• Right offensive tackle: Last year the Aggies started the season with Dada Richards here and eventually moved over Andrew Kersten to fill the position.

Kersten was a natural guard, however, and has since graduated. Richards and Faison McKinnes return, but will the team get improved play at the position with the same personnel? This will be the key area for the Aggies entering 2013.

The offensive line should be solidified at left tackle (Davonte Wallace), center (Valerian Ume-Ezeoke) and one of the guard spots (Andy Cunningham).

• No. 2 receiver: Kemonte Bateman, a senior last season, was a quality complement to No. 1 wideout Austin Franklin.

This area could be characterized as more of a question mark, because the team has a number of bodies vying for the position. Someone has to emerge, however.

Following last Saturday's practice, Martin pointed to Adam Shapiro (former Rio Rancho Ram) and Jerrel Brown (a senior) as two players who've looked good thus far.

Both have been played well on the practice field in recent years, and on a personal note, I thought Brown would be in for a breakout campaign last season. Perhaps it's been reserved for 2013.

Follow me on Twitter @TeddyFeinberg

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Quarterback capsules: Looking at which Aggie QB could be calling the shots in 2013

(Andrew McDonald, a transfer last year from Santa Ana College, watches Saturday practice with Aggie head coach Doug Martin/Photo by Gary Mook)

Below, we break down the Aggie quarterbacks competing for the starting job during spring practices. For a story on what to expect from the Aggie offensive scheme in 2013, click here.

Andrew Manley
Aggie fans are familiar with this junior player, but let’s also define Manley’s game for the record. His strength is throwing the football, with the farther and faster the pass needs to be, typically the better. His weaknesses have been getting rid of the ball in a timely fashion to the short and intermediate routes, and lack of mobility. If Manley wants to be the Aggies' starter in 2013, the latter two deficiencies — as well as the line’s ability to protect him — must improve (and most likely will with better offensive acumen). One thing Manley has going for him is experience, as well as starting for Doug Martin in 2011. What he isn’t is a runner, which would be the ideal fit in NMSU’s 2013 attack.
Quoting Manley: “This offseason I put a lot of work into it. I dropped 20 pounds, I’ve just been working on trying to get faster. So when I do have to keep it, I can actually pick up some yards. Not just be the stiff guy in the backfield and take sacks all the time.”
Quoting Martin: “He’s never going to be a runner. But he’s got to be able to move in the pocket and stay alive back there. I think (losing 15 to 20 pounds) has helped him.”

Travaughn Colwell
Colwell has mobility, and athletically seems like a good fit in the quarterback-option running game. He was misused last year — brought in for the occasional down or series, yet deployed primarily as a wildcat runner and seldom as a passer. Alas, that’s where Colwell needs to make progress — in his passing game. Martin said if Colwell doesn’t win the starting quarterback job outright, the team would likely use him on the field in some capacity, which makes sense (the junior can be a dynamic player). The head coach also pointed out that Colwell has some experience now — he played for the Aggies in 2011 as a freshman (and at times effectively) while getting some time last year, albeit in limited capacity.
Quoting Colwell: “Trusting what you see, making the pass, not tensing up too much. Pitch and catch. .... The running stuff, that’s pretty natural to me.”
Quoting Martin: “Tra’s biggest thing is anticipating (receivers) coming open. He has a tendency to wait, see if everything is coming open, and then he tries to make the throw. You’ve got to try to anticipate that guy coming out of the break.”

Andrew McDonald
This is a junior college player who was recruited to NMSU last season, yet only threw three passes in mop-up duty at Ohio. Perhaps this season he’ll get his shot, as a quarterback who could be cut from a similar cloth as 2011 starter Matt Christian — from the same junior college league, a quarterback who can create some with his legs and get rid of the ball to the team’s playmakers. Martin said McDonald does bring in-game experience from his days at Santa Ana College. His father, Paul, also played quarterback, first at USC and then in the NFL with the Cleveland Browns (drafted in 1980). With that, McDonald remains unproven on the Division I level.
Quoting McDonald: “I’m not really thinking about last year. It’s a fresh start with the new coaching staff. I’m just trying to get better every day. .... I think this offense, the biggest thing is you have to get completions, make the right decisions and move the sticks. I think those are my best qualities.”
Quoting Martin: “Andrew is kind of an operator. He can handle the situation well. He’s smart, really heady. He’s one of those quarterbacks, if he doesn’t make mistakes, you can win football games with him. He’s not going to be real flashy and all those types of things. He’s steady.”

King Davis III
Davis III hails from Mesquite, Texas, and will be a true freshman in 2013. Davis said, while he brings mobility to the quarterback position, he operated more out of the pocket during his high school days. He said he’s working with new offensive coordinator Gregg Brandon on concepts such as the team’s shotgun formation and getting rid of the ball faster. Martin said Davis has all the athletic attributes the team would want in its “future quarterback.” Similar to Colwell, Martin said he would like all his QBs to get on the field in some capacity. In Davis’ case, if he were a backup, Martin said, “he’s not going to stand on the sidelines next to me.”
Quoting Davis: “Being a freshman, I don’t feel much heat. I feel like I can just go out there and play. Being so young, I think for the other quarterbacks, it brings them good competition. I can just go out there and sling it.”
Quoting Martin: “Accuracy is the thing he’s got to improve on right now. At times he really puts it right on them. At other times, he’s got to be more accurate. But part of that is him learning the system, and learning how to practice as a college player.”

Follow me on Twitter @TeddyFeinberg

Thursday, April 4, 2013

VIDEO: Teddy and Brook Show (4/4)

Live from Aggie spring football practice, LCSN sports duo talks NMSU pigskin, baseball and softball, as well as high school baseball. Special appearance from Grant Stockberger highlights this week's episode:

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Analyzing recent college basketball hires, and bringing it home

(Andy Enfield went from a relative unknown coach at Florida Gulf Coast, to being hired at USC following FGCU's successful NCAA Tournament run/Associated Press photo)

With the recent coaching shuffle that's taken place in college basketball — from Steve Alford (UNM to UCLA), to Andy Enfield (Florida Gulf Coast to USC), to Reggie Theus (NBA Developmental League coach who's expected to be hired at Cal State Northridge) — we're reminded that this is college basketball: Coaches move on, and all over, every offseason.

But it also makes us wonder, what's a good job and what's a good move? And what does it take to really get quality a look from another program?

In the case of Alford, superficially he made a good decision. He'll get more money (over $2 million annually at UCLA, on what is a seven-year contract). He'll now coach and recruit in Southern California, have the national spotlight and be on television regularly. Alford's proven to be a good coach — people point to his NCAA Tournament flops (an area he undoubtedly will need to get better in) but also should realize that such losses happen to many coaches every college basketball season. That, and he didn't win 29 games at UNM this past year for nothing. In all likelihood, his team overachieved to get a No. 3 NCAA Tournament seed to begin with.

All that still doesn't mean UCLA is actually a better job for him, however. New Mexico is a top mid-major program — good support, a good team returning and a good-paying position at that. If you win as Lobos coach, you're celebrity in Albuquerque, and Alford did have a good thing there. He wasn't UCLA's first choice after the school dismissed former coach Ben Howland — the Bruins couldn't reel in Brad Stevens or Shaka Smart — and some wonder if the program actually upgraded at the position. Again, this is college basketball: Check back in five years (if that) to see if such a move was a good or bad one for both parties.

In the case of Theus, he had things rolling at New Mexico State before leaving after two seasons to join the Sacramento Kings. Tough to turn down an NBA job (a place that was always near and dear to his heart) that pays $2 million annually, but if Theus had stayed at NMSU for another year or two, who knows where the Aggies could have gone? The upside is, they had a strong recruiting class come in the year he departed, and an NCAA Tournament run wasn't out of the question. Certainly, such success would have done wonders for his career, and the Aggie program. Now, he's starting over in the college game, at Northridge, which is also closer to his Southern California roots.

And lastly, Enfield. Here's a coach who was the face of Florida Gulf Coast's Cinderella run into the NCAA Tournament this year, and days later was swept up by USC. The Eagles were a well-coached and entertaining team that ran a fun offense. They also finished second in an Atlantic Sun Conference that featured the likes of Mercer (league winner), Stetson, USC Upstate, Jacksonville, Northern Kentucky, Northern Florida, East Tennessee State, Lipscomb and Kennesaw State. If such names don't sound familiar, have no fear. This is an unrecognizable league.

But it also brings us to what can trigger a coaching buzz: Enfield's newest job opportunity came off a quality NCAA Tournament run — to be exact, going from a relatively unknown team to winning two tourney games and advancing to the Sweet 16. Again, it can happen to any coach, any time, anywhere. And yes, it could in fact happen at New Mexico State.

Head coach Marvin Menzies has gotten his team to the NCAA Tournament three of the past four years, only to lose in Round 1. He's still received some interest — interviewing with Colorado State two years ago, and seemingly receiving an informal interview with Texas Tech last week (no, we don't buy that he consulted the Red Raiders on who they should hire next). The Aggies should be prime contenders to win the WAC next year (the league has taken a major hit from a competitive standpoint). If that happens, and the team can grab a win or two in the tournament? Menzies could write his ticket to a bigger program if he so chooses.

That's not saying he's unhappy at NMSU, because he seems to enjoy coaching at the program and the Las Cruces community as a whole. It's simply saying, if he ever had the inkling to try his hand at a larger program, that's how he'd get there. Get his team back to the postseason, win a game or two, and opportunities would follow.

Follow me on Twitter @TeddyFeinberg

Monday, April 1, 2013

Aggies will hope to find identity during 2013 spring practices

(Quarterback Travaughn Colwell can create opportunities with legs, which could be a valuable tool in Gregg Brandon's spread offense/Photo courtesy of NMSU athletics)

The 2013 New Mexico State football season won't be predicated off spring practices.

What the next month will be is an evaluation period for the team.

Specifically, what will NMSU's personnel look like — and will it fit what the Aggies want to do schematically this upcoming season.

With spring practices ready to begin this Tuesday, we take a look at what to watch for, for those who happen to make their way to Aggie Memorial Stadium to watch some football:

Distinguishing and establishing an identity: With a new head coach in Doug Martin, much of the Aggies staff and football philosophy will be different in 2013.

Veteran offensive coordinator Gregg Brandon was brought in — he's someone Martin respects and trusts to run the team's attack. With that, the Aggies will try and spread the field and use the speed-option to create a running game. Does NMSU have the personnel necessary to execute such a plan?

As for defense, the Aggies retained coordinator David Elson, who'll likely run a 3-4 defensive front. Elson's background is in the 3-4 (three downlinemen, four linebackers) although last year the Aggies ran a 4-3 alignment, more in correspondence with DeWayne Walker's coaching background.

Elson will now get a chance to coach his scheme, which means the Aggies will have to develop their personnel to fit such requirements.

How will the offense looks?: Again, the Aggies will try to spread the field and use the speed-option to generate a ground game.

Think back to Martin's lone year at NMSU as offensive coordinator, when Matt Christian was inserted at quarterback and Kenny Turner was moved from wide receiver, back to lead running back. NMSU spread the field using four- and five-wide receiver sets. Christian (a mobile QB who could run and throw) got rid of the ball quickly in the passing game, or took it outside on the ground flanked by Turner (a fast, quick gamebreaker in the backfield). The duo accumulated over 1,250 yards rushing (with Turner gaining 1,009 such yards and scoring nine rushing touchdowns in just nine starts in 2011).
Does NMSU have what it takes to produce such results again?

For starters, lets look at quarterback.

Last year's starter Andrew Manley returns for his junior season, a player who can throw a heck of a deep ball, yet isn't fleet of foot.

Junior Travaughn Colwell is back as well, and is an athlete at the position. Colwell showed promise his freshman year, but was misused last season as Manley'a backup — he was put in for spot duty, and was utilized primarily as a runner. While he has the physical capabilities to fit Brandon's offense, he's also a developing quarterback who must prove he can handle the position in it's entirety.

Senior Andrew McDonald, a junior-college transfer a season ago, threw three passes total in 2012, all during the team's 51-24 loss at Ohio. He could be a darkhorse in the race — cut from a similar cloth as Christian in terms of his versatility and experience, he's a veteran player from a good junior college league. Don't sleep on him.

Freshman King Davis, a greyshirt player last year, will also be in the running for playing time.

Brandon's history indicates he'd prefer a multi-faceted player at the position, although when Martin was asked which QB best fit the scheme, the head coach responded, “the one who gets us in the end zone.”

Linebackers wanted: The 3-4 defense requires bodies — tough linemen, playmakers at outside linebacker and some quality cornerbacks never hurt.

But it does start at linebacker, where NMSU will need a good number of players who can rotate throughout the course of the game, and a season. Bryan Bonilla returns after a solid 2012 campaign, as does Trashaun Nixon, a senior who's best utilized as a blitzer from multiple spots on the field.

Dele Junaid, a safety last season, was moved to linebacker as well, and the team brought in reinforcements at the position this past offseason. Going into spring football, 10 linebackers total are listed on the Aggie roster.

In terms of other new faces on the Aggie defense, cornerback Randell Carroll (redshirt senior transfer from UCLA), linebacker Zach Daugherty (Oñate alum, sophomore transfer from New Mexico), and defensive linemen Willie Mobley (senior transfer from Arizona), Matt Ramondo (Mayfield alum, sophomore transfer from Michigan State who sat out 2012) and Kalei Auelua (freshman transfer from Washington) could all be worth keeping an eye on as spring camp kicks off.

2013 NMSU Spring Practice Schedule
* All practices will be held at Aggie Memorial Stadium
Day Time
Tuesday 6-8 a.m.
Thursday 6-8 a.m.
Saturday 10 a.m.-noon
Tuesday, April 9 6-8 a.m.
Thursday, April 11 6-8 a.m.
Saturday, April 13 10 a.m.-noon
Tuesday, April 16 6-8 a.m.
Thursday, April 18 6-8 a.m.
Saturday, April 20 10 a.m.-noon
Tuesday, April 23 6-8 a.m.
Thursday, April 25 6-8 a.m.
Saturday, April 27 10 a.m.-noon
Tuesday, April 30 6-8 a.m.
Thursday, May 2 6-8 a.m.
Saturday, May 4 (Spring game) 6 p.m.