Saturday, February 8, 2014

Aggies build with eye towards future

The Aggie football program certainly addressed some of its immediate needs during 2014 National Signing Day: quarterback, linebacker (NMSU signed six players at each position group) and defensive back (where five players joined the program).

Of course, this also gives the team options, particularly at the quarterback position. The coaching staff will need to see how things shake out and who fits their offensive system best. With that being said, expect some of the competitors to eventually be moved to different positions if the QB spot doesn’t pan out — wide receiver, slot back or defensive back, for instance.

One look at the quarterback prospects indicate they do have speed and athleticism to make such moves, if necessary. Players such as Nate Grimm (1,314 rushing yards, 18 touchdowns), Tyler Rogers (10 rushing touchdowns), Jalen Jones (437 rushing yards, seven touchdowns), Andrew Allen (294 rushing yards, six touchdowns), Nick Jeanty (118 rushing yards, four touchdowns) and Cassius Corley (829 rushing yards) put up good numbers running the ball last season.

It already appears the Aggies are strongly considering such a position change for last year’s quarterback prospect. King Davis III, who the team appeared high on during the 2013 season, will get a look at running back and slot receiver during spring practices, according to head coach Doug Martin.

Last year, the Aggies moved Travaughn Colwell from quarterback to wide receiver and then running back, and Martin said Wednesday that Colwell could get a look at safety this spring.

Of the six quarterbacks signed, five are freshman, while the lone junior college alum was Rogers, a transfer from Arizona Western (he still has three years of eligibility remaining).


Such a theme was present throughout the signing class, where the Aggies signed 25 players total, 23 of which were true freshmen. Two — Rogers and defensive lineman Josh Gibbs — were junior college transfers. No other college transfers signed with NMSU this past week.

Martin made it clear throughout the past year he wants to build the Aggie program with primarily high school athletes, and also through the state of Texas — where 15 of the 25 incoming student-athletes hail from.

This is a matter of preference. Some of the top Aggies in recent years — Matt Christian (quarterback), Taveon Rogers (wide receiver), Kenny Turner (running back), Donyae Coleman (safety) and Trashaun Nixon (linebacker) — came from the junior college ranks. Then again, previous head coach DeWayne Walker was well connected and had a good rapport in the Southern California junior college recruiting scene.

Bringing in primarily high school graduates gives the program a chance to build things from the ground up and establish a foundation while cycling in four-year student-athletes. In time, the plan could very well work. Then again, expect the Aggies to take some lumps in the immediate future.

The team’s defense, for instance, will start plenty of youth across the board this upcoming season, as the Aggies must fill holes across the majority of it’s two-deep depth chart from a year ago.

Offensively, the Aggies must replace gamebreaking wide receiver Austin Franklin, and will need to develop young players at quarterback.
There’s also questions at the running back position. While local products Brandon Betancout and Xavier Hall had impressive seasons last year, Betancourt’s coming off a mid-season foot injury that required surgery.

The team signed two backs last week — Larry Rose (5-foot-11, 180 pounds) and Royce Caldwell (5-foot-7, 170 pounds) — that could help and provide speed. With that being said, neither appear to necessarily be big backs. Yes, NMSU could still use a power rusher that can pound the ball between the tackles. Perhaps 2013 redshirt freshman Marquette Washington will bring that to the offense.

But the overriding point is this: the team appears to be building for two, three and four years down the road, when such young contributors hopefully develop into productive college football players.

Consider this quote from Martin during Wednesday’s signing day, which marked his one-year anniversary as head coach at NMSU: “It was nice to start getting our classes put in place. And this is just a start. We still got some work to go. We need a another recruiting class to really get this football program back on solid ground.”


I’m all for the Larry Coyer hire at defensive coordinator. I’ve long been a proponent of the Aggies paying good money to their lead coaches, and Coyer (an NMSU official said his contract will be a two-year deal worth an estimated annual salary of $150,000) and Gregg Brandon (who signed a two-year contract last season worth a reported $180,000 a year) are quality and experienced at their positions.

But don’t necessarily expect Coyer to work miracles, at least not initially. Again, he’ll be working with a very young unit. And a rule of thumb to remember: quality coaching is important, but is no more important than quality players.

Think back to last year’s offense, which didn’t truly hit it’s stride until Franklin hit his as a playmaker and catalyst for Brandon to work with.
The point is, poor coaching can hurt talent production on the field, while quality coaching can only take mediocre talent so far. And, yes, it’s tough to make up for a lack of either.


Martin said during his Wednesday press conference that the Aggie football team had tremendous support from the school’s faculty during the recruiting process.
The head coach said incoming recruits would have lunch with NMSU faculty members depending on what degree the player had hopes of pursuing.

“Whether it was business, kinesiology. Whatever it was,” Martin said. “We tried to get professors to come so they could have lunch with the young men and talk with them. “Martin said such a philosophy was well received from the players and their family members, and in his mind was one factor that makes New Mexico State a unique college experience.

“It was over and over reiterated by the parents and the recruits, that they didn’t get that at other places,” Martin said. “How far our faculty went ahead of making them feel at home.”

Follow me on Twitter @TeddyFeinberg

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