2010 New Mexico Preview – Defense
CollegeFootballNews.com 2010 Preview - New Mexico Lobo Defense
New Mexico Lobos
Preview 2010 - Defense
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What You Need To Know: Second year defensive coordinator Doug Mallory has some nice pieces to work with and a few certain all-stars, but he needs to find some semblance of consistency. The Lobos struggled from start to finish getting nothing from the secondary and not enough physical play from the defensive front seven. LB Carmen Messina was the nation's leading tackler and ends Johnathan Rainey and Jaymar Latchison might form the best pair in the Mountain West, but there are question marks at safety, mediocrity at corner, and no size at linebacker. However, the pass rush should be active, getting into the backfield shouldn't be a problem, and help is on the way with some great new faces like tackles Ugo Uzodinma and Reggie Ellis, who bolted from Illinois to solidify the inside.
Star of the defense: Junior LB Carmen Messina
Tackles: Carmen Messina, 121
Sacks: Johnathan Rainey, 9.5
Interceptions: Nathan Enriquez, 2
Player who has to step up and be a star: Sophomore S Freddy Young
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB Joe Stoner
Best pro prospect: Junior DE Johnathan Rainey
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Messina, 2) Rainey, 3) DE Jaymar Latchison
Strength of the defense: Defensive End, Messina
Weakness of the defense: Pass Coverage, Takeaways
Projected Starters: Originally a linebacker, 6-2, 242-pound junior Johnathan Rainey bulked up since starting out his career with the hope to be the pass rushing star the line desperately needed. He came through big-time making 9.5 sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss with 38 quarterback hurries, and he was also solid against the run making 52 tackles. The second-team All-Mountain West performer was a basketball star in high school before switching over to football late in the game. Tremendously athletic with a great burst off the ball, he should be one of the league's top defensive playmakers.
Junior Jaymar Latchison pushed through an ankle problem to be a nice complement on the other side of Rainey making 52 tackles with 4.5 sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss. At 6-3 and 245 pounds he's built like a tall, rangy linebacker with great quickness and the ability to get all over the field in a hurry. A leader on the line, he's a tone-setter.
Senior Peter Gardner was expected to shine right away coming in from the JUCO ranks, and he didn't disappoint as a full-season starter on the inside. Courted by several BCS schools, his arrival was a coup for the coaching staff and he came through making 39 tackles with a sack and five tackles for loss. At 6-4 and 289 pounds he's more like a 3-4 end than a true tackle, but he's strong enough to more than hold his own on the inside.
Working in a combination at tackle will be 6-4, 260-pound sophomore Ugo Uzodinma, a transfer from Illinois who followed Mike Locksley over after being recruited out of the Washington D.C. pipeline. While he's not built like a prototype tackle, he's a very strong, very tough defender who looks like he was sent from central casting. A great interior pass rushing prospect, he can flourish inside or out.
Projected Top Reserves: Seeing time in the rotation with Uzodinma will be Reggie Ellis , a 6-2, 285-pound sophomore who, like Uzodinma, transferred from Illinois. A top recruit, he had his choice of top places to go and the pressure will be on to produce at a high level right away. Very tough and with a great motor, he'll work his way into plays just by going full tilt. The skills are there to become an all-star.
Serving as the understudy behind Jaymar Latchison is Jake Carr , a 6-3, 248-pound sophomore who made eight tackles in a little bit of work. A pure pass rusher, he came up with a sack and two tackles for loss in his limited time and will get a much bigger role in the defensive rotation this year.
Small for a defensive tackle, walk-on Ahraya Crespin makes up for his lack of bulk by always working. The 6-2, 259-pound sophomore is extremely quick and has the potential to be a dangerous interior pass rusher when he gets his chance. In his limited time he came up with four tackles for loss, two quarterback hurries, and a recovered fumble.
Watch Out For … the Illinois transfers. If Uzodinma and Ellis are as good as advertised, the Lobo line goes from promising to special in a hurry. These two could've been major factors in the Big Ten.
Strength: Ends. Rainey is already one of the Mountain West's top ends and Latchison isn't far behind. The tackles are quick enough to create a strong interior pass rush from all four spots.
Weakness: Proven depth. There's almost nothing to count on across the board if a slew of injuries strike right away. It'll be a process to create a steady rotation.
Outlook: All four starters had to be replaced from a mediocre line, and the results were good, but nothing special. Now the potential is there to be great with an all-star caliber end duo and an upgrade interior thanks to the addition of Uzodinma and Ellis. If the top five players stay healthy, this will be a disruptive group that should only get better as the year goes on. Next year, the line will be a killer.
Unit Rating: 6
Projected Starters: Junior Carmen Messina is only 6-2 and 222 pounds (and that's bulked up from around 210, what he played at for most of last year), and even though he's fast, he's not a particularly special athlete. However, he hits everything in sight. The CFN Honorable Mention All-American made a nation-leading 162 tackles with three sacks, and eight tackles for loss as a steady, clutch producer who never missed a stop and was all over the field. He came up with 17 stops against TCU and UNLV and 19 against both Utah and Air Force as he came up with double-digit tackles in every game but two. The main man in the middle will be all over the field assisting with stops, and he can hold his own inside as well playing bigger than his size.
Trying to take over for long time playmaker Clint McPeek on the strongside is sophomore Spencer Merritt , a promising defender with 4.72 speed and great open field tackling ability. He wasn't able to get on the field too much but he made 11 tackles in his limited action, and now he needs to be strong against the run despite his 6-2, 220-pound size. He has to hold up against the power running teams.
About to be a major factor on the weakside is sophomore Joe Stoner , a 5-10, 224-pound hitter who was all over the place this offseason and showed the potential to be a big-time hitter. Undersized but quick, he should be excellent in pass coverage and he'll come up with a few highlight reel, blow-him-up, shots. A star on the scout team, he came up big when needed last season with 18 tackles with a sack.
Projected Top Reserves: Working behind Carmen Messina in the middle will be a combination of senior Terel Anyaibe and senior Cody Neely . Anyaibe came up with 11 tackles in his limited action and has mostly been a special teamer, but at 6-1 and 229 pounds he's the biggest option in the middle and on the strongside. The 6-2, 201-pound Neely made 12 stops and has good speed, but he doesn't have the hitting ability of the other two.
6-2, 215-pound sophomore Joe Harris has had knee problems and wasn't able to do anything last year. The walk-on has good toughness and can move well enough to work on the weakside, but he'll have to fight with Dallas Bollema to back up Joe Stoner. The 6-2, 210-pound redshirt freshman made 189 tackles as a high school senior and is a physical prospect ready to become a factor. He'll have to fight for time, though.
Watch Out For … Anyaibe. The senior
Strength: Stoner. Messina will get all the headlines, but with the play of Stoner this offseason and the way he progressed, he could be a fringe all-star candidate who fills up the stat sheet. He'll be all over the field.
Weakness: Excellent depth. Outside of Anyaibe there isn't a lot to count on right away. Harris and Bollema are good young prospects, but they have to prove they can play to provide more options. Anyaibe hasn't done too much yet over the course of his career, but he'll be a key backup both in the middle and the strongside. While he won't be one of the team's top tacklers, he'll be vital in the rotation.
Outlook: Thanks to Messina and his tackling ability, there's a star on the inside for everything else to work around. Stoner is a burgeoning star and Merritt is promising on the strongside. The depth is lacking and everyone has to make more plays closer to the line rather than ten yards down the field, but this is a young, promising group with tremendous upside.
Unit Rating: 5.5
Projected Starters: The secondary has to be far, far better, and that stars with veteran Anthony Hooks at one corner. The 5-11, 175-pound junior made 44 tackles, but he only came up with two broken up passes and no interceptions. The former walk-on doesn't have elite skills, but he's experienced and he's not afraid to stick his nose in against the run and is physical against the bigger receivers.
After seeing plenty of action as a true freshman, 5-10, 184-pound Emmanuel McPhearson will take over the starting corner job. It was a rough ride to get on the team coming from Maryland, but he finally got eligible and stepped in to become a spot starter making 26 tackles with two broken up picks with an interception. He's quick, tough against the run, and has the potential to be the team's No. 1 cover corner.
Needing to play a key role right away after getting one start against Air Force is junior Bubba Forrest , a good hitting 6-0, 205-pound veteran who filled in for a variety of spots. A nickel back as well as a regular safety, he made 47 tackles but he didn't come up with any picks and he only broke up one pass. Stopping the run isn't an issue, but being steady in pass coverage will be a must as is staying healthy. He missed spring ball hurt.
Is sophomore Freddy Young ready? Extremely promising, the 6-1, 195-pound safety made four tackles in a limited role last year, but he has speed and he has the physical ability to be one of the team's top tacklers. The son of former NFL linebacker Fredd Young, Freddy has the talent and now he has to secure the starting strong safety job.
Projected Top Reserves: Either Nathan Enriquez will be a starting corner or a top nickel and dime defender. With 4.52 speed, he's one of the team's fastest defensive backs and he's a tough 5-11 and 178 pounds, but he struggled way too much with his consistency and missed a few games with a concussion. Even though he started in five games and played a big role throughout the season, he only came up with 23 tackles with a team-leading two interceptions.
Sophomore A.J. Butler came to New Mexico as a running back with 177 yards and a touchdown and an impressive 32 catches for 213 yards in his first year. However, he's needed more on the defensive side as he'll take his 6-0, 200-pound size and excellent quickness to the safety rotation. He might need a while and he definitely needs plenty of seasoning, but he has the skills to grow into a job.
Watch Out For … the depth chart to change daily early on this year. The pass coverage was so miserable that the coaching staff is looking for anyone who can play in the secondary. From Butler, a running back, to Cameiris Stewart, a wide receiver, to true freshmen Julian Blair, James Grace, and Devonta Tabannah, several new faces will get a look.
Strength: Youth. The secondary will get torn up at times like last year, but it's a good group with the potential to grow into a tight unit … with a lot of time. There aren't any seniors and just two juniors among all the top prospects.
Weakness: Safety. The corners are hardly special, but there are three returning veterans and they shouldn't be a total disaster again, but safety is an issue with Young and Forrest needing to prove they can play.
Outlook: The secondary got a little help from a strong pass rush but it didn't matter; there was nothing happening against the better passing teams. The Lobos only picked off seven passes and gave up 29 touchdowns, and they gave up 200 yards or more in nine of the 12 games. Despite facing two teams that couldn't throw the forward pass (NMSU and Air Force), New Mexico still finished 105th in the nation and last in the Mountain West in pass defense and was 114th in pass efficiency defense. There's a lot of work to be done.
Unit Rating: 4
Projected Starters: Junior James Aho wasn't able to recapture his freshman year magic when he hit 18-of-24 field goals, but he wasn't awful connecting on 13-of-21 attempts with most of his misses coming from deep. Reliable from inside the 40, the former walk-on should be among the league's better kickers with two years of experience under his belt. He doesn't have big leg, but he'll get a few chances from beyond 45 yards.
Adam Miller came up with a strong season averaging 44 yards per punt with 17 kicks put inside the 20, and now it'll be up to redshirt freshman Ben Skaer to show he can handle the work. A nice recruit with a strong, consistent leg, he might not be a banger but he can hang it up a mile high and he should average over 40 yards per kick.
Speedy wide receiver Bryant Williams will be one of the main kick and punt returners after averaging 21.7 yards per try on his three kickoff returns. Fellow receiver/tight end Ty Kirk will also get a long look to boost an abysmal punt return game that averaged 3.6 yards per try.
Watch Out For … Skaer to be more than fine. He might need a little time, but he has the leg and he has the skills to be a steady punter to keep the production going after the team netted a solid 36.51 yards per kick last year.
Strength: Aho's experience. While he didn't have a great year, he has been around long enough to not have many problems handling himself in key situations. He'll be fine from inside the 40.
Weakness: The return game. Of all the issues on the New Mexico special teams, steady returns were the biggest issue. The punt return team was a disaster and the Lobos were last in the Mountain West in kickoff returns averaging a pathetic 19.2 yards per try.
Outlook: A year after being the best in the Mountain West, the return game was the worst in the country and the coverage teams were shockingly bad allowing 9.5 yards per punt return and 23.5 yards per kickoff return. All the pieces were there to have one of the best all-around special teams units in college football, and instead they were among the worst. There's room for improvement, but the talent is there to rebound in a hurry.
Unit Rating: 5.5
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