Tuesday, April 1, 2014

On veteran line, Ramondo lining up at left tackle during spring drills

The New Mexico State Aggie football team does bring back a handful of returning players at one of the game’s most crucial position groupings: the offensive line.

Of course there’s the mainstays: center Valerian Ume-Ezeoke will be entering his fourth year as a starter with the program, while soon-to-be junior Andy Cunningham (currently out of action due to a knee injury, although expected back in the fall) is a player the program’s started at guard and tackle during recent years.

Left guard Isaiah Folasa-Lutui is a returning starter from a season ago, as is right guard Abram Holland.

This past offseason, head coach Doug Martin spoke highly of redshirt freshman Thomas McGwire.

With all that being said, the Aggies do have to replace their best offensive lineman over recent years: left tackle Davonte Wallace was a four-year starter at arguably the line’s most crucial position, a spot reserved for top-tier athletes. Good footspeed is required at the weakside spot, with such a player often protecting the quarterback’s blindside, while going one-on-one with the opposition’s top pass rusher. In truth, Wallace seldom if ever had breakdowns at the position for the Aggies, and will likely get a look on an NFL roster either as a late-round draft pick or as an undrafted free agent.

With that being said, the Aggies moved Matt Ramondo from nose tackle to offensive line this offseason, and the soon-to-be junior is getting snaps at left tackle during 2014 spring drills.

Ramondo is a Mayfield High School graduate who played both ways during his prep days as a Trojan. He signed with Michigan State out of high school, only to transfer to NMSU two years ago. Last year he had a fairly ordinary season on the defensive line, although has the potential be a quality nose tackle on that side of the ball. With that being said, his skills should translate well to the offensive line as well - a handful of schools recruited him as an offensive lineman out of high school, and Ramondo said during a recent interview he believes he's better suited for the position. Still, left tackle should be a good test for the 6-foot-5, 310 pounder.

We caught up with Ramondo following practice on Monday morning to talk about his transition to offensive line:

Q: How are your feeling about the change?
A: “It’s something new. I don’t have any negative things about it. Whatever I can do to help the team. I don’t have any quarrels about it. It’s fun, it’s different. I’m trying to learn as much as I can. And it’s kind of fun learning it again. I haven’t played it since high school.”

Q: You were recruited as an offensive and defensive lineman, although chose Michigan State and then NMSU because of the opportunity to play defense?
A: “I wanted to stay as a defensive player. It was kind of me being hardheaded. Just wanted to continue being the defensive player that I thought I was. I know I’m kind of better at offense. It just kind of comes easy to me....(Defensive tackle) was the position that I knew and I loved. I was so set on playing defense. And coach just asked me (to play offensive line) and I was just like, ‘Yeah. Whatever the team needs.’ He made it seem like this is what I wanted. He asked me, and (there) was no hesitation like, ‘yeah, of course.’ I never thought I’d say I want to play offense. But I want to play offense for coach Martin.”

Q: Talk about playing left tackle against some of the game’s elite pass rushers?
A: “Coach (Steve) Marshall has us moving around to a bunch of different positions. Kind of just see where we’re at. I think every position is kind of like that. Every position has its strengths. Left tackle kind of gets the spotlight of the offensive line. Just because it’s the blindside of the quarterback. But every position definitely has what’s hard about it and what’s not. Every player on the offensive line has experience, they’re doing great. They’re pulling me along and I really appreciate it.”

Ramondo's move does leave inexperience at defensive nose tackle, where converted offensive linemen Alexander Trujillo and Houston Clemente are listed on the depth chart. When asked if he'd ever be willing to play both offensive and defensive line in 2014, Ramondo smiled, nodded his head and reiterated he'd do whatever it takes to help the team.


While the Aggies spring depth chart features very few returning starters from last season, two are currently not listed due to injury: linebacker Stephen Meredith (ACL) and cornerback Lewis Hill (shoulder) are both expected back for the fall season, according to NMSU coaches.


The team currently has redshirt freshman Gregory Hogan listed at kickoff and punt returns.

Head coach Doug Martin spoke highly of Hogan this offseason, and perhaps having him at such positions on the depth chart - including listed as a backup to senior wide receiver Adam Shapiro - indicates the team’s hopeful Hogan can replace some of the big-play elements Austin Franklin brought to the table.

The Aggie wide receiving corps - with Shapiro, Jerrel Brown, Joshua Bowen, Joseph Matthews and Jordan Bergtrom all listed on the depth chart - certainly brings back a lot of experience for the 2014 season.

Follow me on Twitter @TeddyFeinberg

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