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.
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