Monday, July 29, 2013

A look at recent Aggies, and their chances in respective NFL training camps

(Jonte Green, left, had a surprising rookie year for the Detroit Lions in 2012. He'll look to continue his progress as a professional player in this his second NFL season/Courtesy photo)

Last year, two New Mexico State Aggies - Davon House and Jonte Green - not only made NFL rosters, but contributed to their respective teams.

Taking the field as cornerbacks, both had moments as front-line players, House suiting up for the Green Bay Packers and Green for the Detroit Lions.

With training camps opening last week throughout the National Football League, here's a look at not just House's and Green's progressions entering the 2013 season, but some other former Aggie football players trying to make NFL rosters:

Davon House
After being taken in the fourth round of the 2011 NFL Draft, House showed marked improvement - at least from the standpoint of playing time - during his second season with the Packers. House started five games in 2012, picking up 26 tackles, recording five pass breakups and also a sack. Last week, when House returned to Las Cruces to host a football kids clinic, he said the Packers coaching staff was happy with his performance, adding he played with a torn labrum for much of last season. House said his goal was to be a full-time starter in 2013. Whether or not that comes to fruition, expect the third-year pro to continue seeing increased playing time in the Green Bay secondary.

Jonte Green
Green had a surprise season last year for the Lions. After an inconsistent career at NMSU (a promising sophomore year, a down junior campaign, followed by a better senior season) he was selected by Detroit in the sixth round of the 2012 NFL Draft. Green would go on to have a pretty good rookie campaign with the Lions, starting five games and recording 29 tackles, an interception and a sack (such production showed he could play on the NFL level, and would typically exceed expectations for similar late-round picks). The Lions did take Mississippi State cornerback Darius Slay in the second round of this past April's draft, so Green could be pushed heading into 2013. With that being said, if he continues to progress and prove himself, he should have a shot with the team once again, and might even have a bright future in Detroit.

Taveon Rogers
The Cincinnati Bengals signed Rogers last year as an undrafted free agent and moved him from wide receiver to cornerback. Rogers spent the year on Cincinnati's injured reserve list, although still possesses the quality that made him a special college player: exceptional speed. While Cincinnati holds veteran cornerbacks on it's depth chart (Leon Hall, Terrance Newman and Adam 'Pacman' Jones), along with former first-round pick Dre Kirkpatrick waiting in the wings, Rogers still brings value as a special teams player (he was a standout kick returner during his Aggie tenure). One thing NMSU fans can keep an eye on: the Bengals will be featured on this year's edition of HBO's "Hard Knocks," which takes an in-depth look into the team's summer training camp regimen. The season premiere is scheduled for Aug. 6, and Rogers could get some air time to display his ability.

Jeremy Harris
Harris was selected by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the seventh round of this past April's draft, where he'll be reunited with former Aggie head coach DeWayne Walker (who now coaches the Jaguars secondary). Standing at 6-foot-2, Harris has the size to play NFL cornerback and the Jaguars are extremely young in the defensive backfield (five of the team's eight 2013 draft picks were used on the secondary). While it seems Harris at least has a chance to make the team, he's still just two years removed from playing junior college football and could need some time to develop into a pro player. Perhaps he could make one of the Jaguars final roster spots, or be placed on the team's practice squad going into the year. In any event, for a seventh-round pick, he finds himself in a good situation, with the right coach on a team that offers opportunity.

Kemonte Bateman, Donte Savage
Both of these undrafted free agents are currently on NFL rosters.
Bateman, who signed with the Denver Broncos, is a polished wide receiver who could have a shot with one of the NFL's elite teams (and a chance to take the field with, and learn from, some elite players on offense, including quarterback Peyton Manning).
As for Savage, he had somewhat of a disappointing senior season at NMSU, although was still signed by Green Bay this past spring. He does face a challenge, however, particularly after switching positions from defensive line to linebacker upon joining the pro club.

Follow me on Twitter @TeddyFeinberg

Friday, July 19, 2013

Recruiting, the lifeblood of Aggie basketball

(Standing at 7-foot-5, Aggie center Sim Bhullar will welcome his younger brother, 7-foot-3 Tanveer, into the NMSU program for the 2013-14/Associated Press photo)

It’s been an astounding sequence of additions.

New Mexico State basketball's recent newcomer, Tanveer Bhullar, gives the Aggies two skilled players - Tanveer himself and his older brother Sim - who stand well over 7-feet tall.

Add that to a frontcourt that already features the 6-foot-10 Tshilidzi Nephawe and the 6-foot-8 Renaldo Dixon; and to a backcourt that’s highlighted by 6-foot-2 high-flyer Daniel Mullings. And the proof is present before us: the Aggies have done a remarkable job bringing physical talent into their program.

Throughout his tenure at New Mexico State, head coach Marvin Menzies has proven to be a resourceful recruiter. Never has it been more apparent entering his sixth year in Las Cruces. The Aggies don’t necessarily land the big-name player, or a blue-chip talent from nearby. Rather, they've brought in low-risk, physically-gifted athletes by going the international route.

Their pipeline to Canada - particularly Toronto - has treated the program remarkably well. Consider some of the Aggies who’ve come from north of the border in recent years: the Bhullar brothers, Mullings, Dixon, Hernst Laroche and Tyrone Watson. Much of the credit should go to assistant coach Paul Weir, a Toronto native who’s recruiting abilities have helped funnel such talent to Las Cruces. And, of course to Menzies, the head coach who runs the program in it’s entirety.

The Aggies have also gone to Africa for contributors such as Nephawe (Johannesburg, South Africa), while Bandja Sy came from Stoneridge Prep in California, yet originally hails from Cergy, France.

Physically, this has allowed the Aggies to simply dominate comparable competition in recent years - see three WAC championships in four years as evidence of that fact.

And, yet again, it seems highly likely the Aggies will win the WAC once again in 2013-14. Realistically speaking, barring a monumental collapse, the team should roll to another league championship.

And it should be a similar formula as recent history would indicate: Dominating the interior - five-feet and in towards the basket on offense - while controlling the backboards with a deep and massive frontcourt that aids a defensive-minded outfit.

Fan frustrations can fester with the Aggies over the course of a college basketball season for the following reason: The team, with it’s incredible physical attributes, often seems to underachieve relative to their athletic capabilities. Such critics would point to a lack of conference regular-season championships, a poor record against it’s regional rivals, and struggles against elite competition.

With that as a backdrop, lets go back to NMSU's 2013-14 roster: strictly from a physical standpoint, the Aggies have the bodies to play with seemingly anyone in the country. Hence, we’ll see how they perform in important early-season games at Arizona, Gonzaga and Colorado State. Frankly, their track record against similar opponents in recent years hasn’t been good. Perhaps a win or two against such foes will be in the cards this season.

But because of the aforementioned athletes recruited to the program, the Aggies also routinely find themselves in the NCAA Tournament mix on an annual basis as well. For that matter, don’t expect such a trend to change during the 2013-14 campaign.

Follow me on Twitter @TeddyFeinberg

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Regional recruiting: Can it put Aggie football on winning track?

The New Mexico State football coaching staff - under first-year head coach Doug Martin - has aggressively recruited the region since coming on board this past February.

The question - and it's been a long-debated one in Las Cruces - is, will it help the team find a winning formula? This topic was recently delved into during a Sun-News article this past week.

Here's where I stand on the issue: I don't think it would help by leaps and bounds, although it certainly can be part of the program's overall blueprint if and when it achieves success.

Do I think the Aggies could utilize their local resources better than they have in the past? Absolutely. I don't think there's a question about that. And, from a public-relations standpoint, recruiting the neighborhood never hurts.

But it's been written plenty of times in this space before: College football is an arms race. And until the Aggies invest substantial money into their recruiting practices, they'll likely field a marginal team. Simply put, the days of recruiting just California, Texas, and a little bit of New Mexico not only haven't worked in some time, they're also dated.

That doesn't mean the Aggies shouldn't be proactive when looking in-state for help, trying to find the top players, along with other hidden gems the region might have to offer. Of course, players like Brian Urlacher (Lovington) and Hank Basket (Clovis) come around once in a blue moon. But it's also about being a quality talent evaluator, and a resourceful coach and player developer.

Some regional players who have contributed to the Aggies in recent years: left tackle Davonte Wallace is an El Paso native, a player recruited out of high school by NMSU and North Texas. He's started the past three years with the Aggies, and was an All-WAC member a season ago.

Matt Ramondo (Michigan State) and Zach Daugherty (New Mexico) are Las Cruces products who played college football elsewhere before transferring to NMSU. Both should make an impact on the field this fall, in Ramondo's case a sizeable one.
Clint Barnard, a middle linebacker from Melrose, NM, came out of nowhere to run with the first-team defense this past spring.

And wide receivers Joshua Bowen (Manzano) and Adam Shapiro (Rio Rancho) also looked good this spring, and could be ready to perform in game action come September.

As another example, let's also take a look at running back Brandon Betancourt.

He was recruited out of Mayfield two years ago and has rarely taken the field for the Aggies since.

The truth is, Betancourt has always had good speed - a burst to the second level - which has made him a running back with big-play potential. But he also came out of high school weighing reportedly 170 pounds (which may have been a generous number to begin with). Such a fact made it tough for him in pass blocking, which made it tough for him to play consistently.

This year, however, Betancourt should get a greater shot - now as a junior with some experience under his belt, at a position that's thin in depth. How he'll perform is tough to predict. Perhaps he'll supply a change of pace to the tough-running style of starter Germi Morrison. Perhaps he'll be a third-down back with big-play capabilities outside the tackles. Or perhaps he'll be more. But he should at least have a role, which is important for a team that needs to take advantage of any edge it can find.

Depth means something and so does supplying a two-deep. Rocky Long, former head coach at the University of New Mexico, did a spectacular job recruiting the state, both via scholarship and with a successful walk-on program. Not that all New Mexico natives on the Lobos were front-line players, because that wasn't the case. But by their third, fourth or fifth years on the roster, after a redshirt season and others backing up, some would emerge on the depth chart as contributors. And some would, in fact, emerge to be more.

Never would I say 10 of the 11 starters on both sides of the ball should come from in-state. I do think a local presence could be a piece to the overall puzzle, however.

Recruiting is truly the lifeblood of a program. It leads to everything else - the building of depth, a competitive outfit and wins. Good players can improve coaching, yet good coaches can only do so much with what they have to work with. While I think looking regionally is necessary, I'll also say investing big money into recruiting and getting as close to a national recruiting budget as possible is how Aggie football will ultimately bring winning results into the program.

In the words of Don Kloppenburg, a former college football coach for close to 30 years, who worked at NMSU twice (once as an assistant under Jim Wood, once again under Tony Samuel): "If you have a low budget for recruiting, it really limits you. I don't care who you are."

Follow me on Twitter @TeddyFeinberg

Local players on the 2013 New Mexico State football roster
* Includes players from New Mexico and El Paso
Zach Baker, strong safety, Las Cruces High School
Clint Barnard, linebacker, Melrose High School
Brandon Betancourt, running back, Mayfield High School
Joshua Bowen, wide receiver, Manzano High School
Zach Daugherty, linebacker, OƱate High School
Xavier Hall, running back, Las Cruces High School
Abram Holland, offensive lineman, Cleveland High School
Matt Jaramillo, tight end, West Mesa High School
Isaac Leon, linebacker, St. Pius X High School
Cole Liggins, wide receiver, Sandia High School
Antonio Ortega, offensive lineman, Gadsden High School
Matt Ramondo, defensive lineman, Mayfield High School
Chance Roberts, defensive lineman, Los Lunas High School
Gino Satriana, punter, Rio Rancho High School
Adam Shapiro, wide receiver, Rio Rancho High School
Brennon Shay, wide receiver, Piedra Vista High School
Kedeem Thomas-Davis, cornerback, El Dorado HIgh School (El Paso)
Davonte Wallace, offensive lineman, Irvin High School (El Paso)
Andrew Zapien, long snapper, Mayfield High School