New Mexico Football: Three Questions For Spring Practice

New Mexico Football: Three Questions For Spring Practice

Mountain West Football

New Mexico Football: Three Questions For Spring Practice


New Mexico Football: Three Questions For Spring Practice

Danny Gonzales’s Lobos are still a work in progress, but how quickly they find answers for their most pressing needs could determine a lot.

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Plenty to be done in Albuquerque?

The New Mexico Lobos today became the first Mountain West team to begin spring football practices and, after a long 2021 in which the team underwent a few trials by fire, it will be interesting to see how Danny Gonzales’s team picks itself up to begin anew with a host of young and new talent on hand.

New Mexico finished at the bottom of the Mountain division in 2021 and, at least on paper, seems likely to be projected for the same this year, but what are the biggest questions they can begin to address in defiance of that outlook?

What will New Mexico do at quarterback now?

After Terry Wilson’s season was derailed by injury in mid-October, the quarterback carousel go thrown into full throttle as subsequent injuries and ineffectiveness took their toll on the offense. Eight different Lobos (not all of them quarterbacks, mind you) threw at least one pass in 2021 and things got bad enough that the team had to pull Bryson Carroll from his role as a graduate student manager onto the field by the end of the year.

As you can imagine, it wasn’t pretty: The non-Wilson passers combined to finish 42-of-86 (48.8%) and average 3.6 yards per attempt with three touchdowns and four interceptions. Insert your choice of “yikes” GIF here.

Fingers crossed, such rotten injury luck won’t strike two seasons in a row, but now the unit is back to square one with Wilson having moved on. Frank Mercogliano notes that the roster now has just four quarterbacks in for the spring — redshirt junior Connor Genal, redshirt sophomore Isaiah Chavez, redshirt freshman CJ Montes, and incoming Kansas transfer Myles Kendrick — so determining how to split first-team reps is certainly one of Gonzales’s and offensive coordinator Derek Warehime’s top priorities, even if it is likely the competition will endure into the fall.

How can the Lobos retool their ground game?

Saddled with a struggling air attack, the Lobos’ rushing game acquitted itself reasonably well given the circumstances and Aaron Dumas had a pretty solid case to be the Mountain West’s freshman of the year in 2021. The problem? Dumas is in Washington now after leaving the program through the transfer portal and the team also has to replace three starters on the offensive line (Kyle Stapley, Cade Briggs, Austin Cook).

At running back, the Lobos do have veteran options who could step into the breach as part of a committee. Nathaniel Jones redshirted in 2021 but had a promising freshman campaign two seasons ago (49 carries, 232 yards, four TDs), while Peyton Dixon was a bright spot in last year’s season finale against Utah State. Chad Alexander and Bobby Wooden have each played sparingly over the last two seasons, as well, so while wagering that Jones will get first crack at the RB1 is a reasonable bet, this competition also figures to be wide open until August.

As for the situation in the trenches, New Mexico doesn’t lack for options… though many of those options do lack extensive experience. Among the 14 players in for the spring (Mercogliano notes that center/guard Radson Jang, who started the last six games, is recovering from surgery), only a handful saw action for the Lobos last season: Isaak Gutierrez is as close to a lock for a starting job as there is with 16 starts from 2020-21, while Shannco Matautia (four games, two starts), Isaiah Sillemon (four appearance in last five games), and Greg Brown II (three September appearances) figure to be among those who will get a long look.

Who else could emerge in Rocky Long’s defense?

It’s been clear that the Lobos defense has led the way despite often-difficult circumstances early in Gonzales’s tenure and, if returning production is any indication, it figures to do the same in the leadup to 2022.

The secondary is in reasonable shape with cornerback Donte Martin and the safety trio of Jerrick Reed II, Tavian Combs and Ronald Wilson all back, so the surprise performers might come from the front end of Rocky Long’s 3-3-5. Dion Hunter, for instance, only started one game but got plenty of run throughout 2021 and impressed with 38 total tackles, two tackles for loss and the highest-overall Pro Football Focus grade of any qualifying Lobos linebacker. Could he or Cody Moon (44 tackles, 1.5 TFLs) push for a larger role?

The defensive line could be the most fertile competitive ground, however, since New Mexico must replace both tackle Langston Murray and end Joey Noble. Jaden Phillips, like Peyton Dixon, impressed when given a start in the Utah State finale while Bryce Santana got two starts down the stretch in Murray’s stead, so those two could lead the way in the hunt to line up alongside incumbent defensive end Jake Saltonstall.



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