Signs of the physical Lobo teams under former coach Rocky Long returned during coach Mike Locksley's second spring practice.
New Mexico's success in re-embracing its physical nature should help it recover from an abysmal 1-11 record in 2009 during Locksley's rookie campaign as a head coach.
Running the ball and stopping the run were two of the focal points Locksley wanted the team to address during the spring, and the offense certainly held up its end of the bargain.
Running backs Demond Dennis and Kasey Carrier kept finding open space during the session and took advantage. James Wright also had some impressive runs. Part of the emphasis on the ground game was that the Lobos weren't sure what they were going to get at the quarterback position.
But a funny thing happened to UNM while it was waiting for its two high school quarterback recruits -- Tarean Austin and Stump Godfrey -- to arrive in the summer: sophomore B.R. Holbrook emerged.
The sophomore, the only quarterback among the three the Lobos had for spring ball to stay healthy, took advantage of the improved running game to spread the ball downfield with unexpected efficiency.
"With the injuries we had at the position, he's been afforded a ton of reps," Locksley said. "I would say going into (the fall), with the fact he's been in the system for two years, it's definitely going to help. But the two freshmen are coming in the summer, and it's going to be up to them to put themselves in contention with the short time they have. If they can do that, we're going to put the best guy out there."
UNM's defense wasn't that bad, either. The line, which was playing without rehabbing junior Johnathan Rainey, showed the ability to get pressure on the quarterback. A still youthful secondary found itself out of position on a number of big plays -- it benefited greatly from having to cover speedy Ohio State transfer Lamaar Thomas, who's ineligible this season -- but bounced back often to make big plays of its own.
It remains the big question mark heading into 2010.NOTES, QUOTES
--Sophomore B.R. Holbrook took advantage of injuries to fellow QBs Brad Gruner and Tate Smith to exit the spring as the clear No. 1 quarterback. Holbrook, who contracted mononucleosis during the 2009 season, put on the weight he lost and significantly improved his decision-making ability in the spring. He still must add more weight before fall camp to have a chance at becoming the starter in the fall. His No. 1 status at the end of spring only ensures that he'll get ample time to beat out incoming freshmen Tarean Austin and Darian "Stump" Godfrey.
--UNM signed safety Chase Clayton out of San Pedro High School in Carson, Calif., to compete for playing time in the fall. The 6-foot-3, 190-pound Clayton has excellent size and speed, and should be in the hunt for a rotation spot, pending his ability to learn the scheme.
--The Lobos already became much more athletic at safety by moving running back A.J. Butler and wide receiver Carmeiris Stewart to defense in the spring. Both showed signs they can be effective in the secondary, but they have to continue to study and learn the nuances of the position.
LT Byron Bell -- The junior, who has been dealing with personal issues for the majority of his collegiate career, came into the spring with a new attitude and became the anchor of an improved offensive line. He has a chance to be dominant, which the Lobos desperately need to establish a running game in 2010.
WLB Joe Stoner -- He solidified his status as a starter in 2010 with an especially strong spring. He lost about 10 pounds in the offseason, and the coaching staff likes his improved speed. He's still a physical presence against the run and was one of the defense's standout players in the offseason session.
TE Lucas Reed -- Reed was inconsistent in his pass-catching ability as a redshirt freshman last season, but he showed tremendous improvement during the spring. His number of drops decreased significantly, and he also was a more physical blocker in the running game. The spread attack affords him the potential to be the most productive Lobo tight end in more than a decade.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We're still in just the second year of getting this program to where my vision for the program is, so there's a lot of work ahead for us to do. We're trying to put ourselves in contention for a bowl game. A team is judged by going to bowl games, whether the season's a success or not. Right now, I see us on track for getting into contention." -- New Mexico coach Mike Locksley.STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
2010 OUTLOOK: The Lobos should be much better than the 2009 team that limped to a 1-11 record, but the question may be when the team will see tangible evidence of that improvement. UNM starts the season at Oregon -- which had a volatile offseason but is still Oregon -- followed by home games against Texas Tech and Utah. Coach Mike Locksley was able to keep the team together last season, and it played much better in the second half of 2009. He'll likely have to do it again this season to keep the Lobos from losing confidence.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: RBs Demond Dennis and Kasey Carrier are poised to have breakout sophomore seasons behind a much-improved line. Dennis appears much more poised and decisive about where he wants to go with the ball this season, and Carrier continues to impress with his ability to attack the line despite his 5-9, 175-pound frame. James Wright, the 6-foot, 239-pound junior, has shown glimpses of great play but must be more consistent. The offense, however, won't take shape until the QB position is decided. But as well as B.R. Holbrook played in the spring, the Lobos should be pretty good on that side of the ball if one of the true freshmen -- Tarean Austin or Stump Godfrey -- plays better than Holbrook did.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The line could be as good as the program has had in a long time. Not only does it get end Johnathan Rainey back for the fall, but high school recruit Calvin Smith will join the unit in the summer. UNM will be able to mask a lot of deficiencies in the secondary if it can get pressure with its deep, four-man front. And lest we forget, junior MLB Carmen Messina -- the nation's leading tackler last season -- also should be improved with a year under his belt in coordinator Doug Mallory's scheme.
SCOUTING THE SPECIAL TEAMS: Trusty K James Aho returns, but the Lobos must break in redshirt freshman punter Ben Skaer. Skaer has the leg strength, but consistency will be the question. UNM has some potential in its return game with WRs Bryant Williams and Quintell Solomon.
--Junior QB Brad Gruner suffered a torn MCL in his left knee that kept him out of the second half of spring practice. It was a blow to any hopes Gruner had of playing next season because he needs a lot of work with his passing to compete for the starting spot in the fall.
--Junior DE Jonathan Rainey, who missed spring practice because of offseason shoulder surgery, will be ready to go by the summer without any limitations.
--Junior safety Bubba Forrest missed the entire spring to recover from offseason surgery but will be at full strength for fall camp.
--Redshirt freshman WR Demarcus Rogers tore his Achilles' heel during the first week of spring practice and will miss the 2010 season.
--Junior WR Michael Scarlett suffered a potentially serious knee injury during the spring game and was to be evaluated as to its severity.
--Sophomore TE Jonathan Made suffered a dislocated elbow in the spring game but is expected to make a full recovery before fall camp.
Previous Report: 04/11/2010