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March 19, 2011

Locksley faces many issues at New Mexico

Two seasons, two wins, 22 losses -- it has been a disappointing ride for New Mexico coach Mike Locksley.

Locksley has to deliver some results this season, and he likes the potential of his third Lobos squad. Locksley, a superb recruiter, has stocked the roster with some decorated recruits and transfers. But can coaches turn that talent and potential into victories?

The to-do list is long this spring. Chief among those is fixing an awful defense. The unit ranked last in the Mountain West in total defense (469.0 ypg) and rushing defense (250.2 ypg). Big plays were sparse, with the Lobos finishing eighth in the conference in sacks and tackles for loss. Maybe a switch from a 4-3 to a 4-2-5 set will help.

The offense might have been worse, ranking last in the nation (265.7 ypg). The Lobos couldn't run (108.0 ypg/106th) or pass (157.7 ypg/106th). And New Mexico was prodigious in its production of turnovers, pacing the conference with 31.

Locksley hopes a staff shakeup will help. George Barlow was promoted to defensive coordinator after Doug Mallory left to coach at Indiana. Quarterback coach David Reaves was promoted to offensive coordinator after Darrell Dickey was fired. Craig Jefferies had been coach at Washington (D.C.) Dunbar and now will coach the Lobos' wide receivers. Mike Woodford, who last coached at Illinois in 2009, was tabbed to run the secondary. Vincent White, who had been at FCS school Southeast Missouri State, was hired to coach running backs. And Ron Hudson, who had been at Louisiana-Lafayette, was hired to coach the offensive line and be the running game coordinator.

Here's a look at the Lobos as they prepare to start spring ball.

NEW MEXICO AT-A-GLANCE
Things haven't gone well for Mike Locksley in his first two years at New Mexico.
THE BASICS
Coach: Mike Locksley
Last season: 1-11 overall, 1-7 in Mountain West.
Spring dates: March 22-April 16.
RETURNING STARTERS
(minimum seven starts last season)
Offense (3): C Dillon Farrell, WR Ty Kirk, TE Lucas Reed.
Defense (9): FS A.J. Butler, SS Bubba Forrest, CB Anthony Hooks, E Jaymar Latchison, LB Spencer Merritt, LB Carmen Messina, CB DeShawn Mills. LB Joe Stoner, T Ugo Uzodinma.
Special teams (2): K James Aho, P Ben Skaer.

Positions of strength

The Lobos have lots of options at receiver and tight end. WR Ty Kirk is back after leading the squad with 38 catches for 477 yards. Transfers Lamaar Thomas (Ohio State) and Deon Long (West Virginia) should be immediate-impact receivers. TE Lucas Reed is a weapon, grabbing 33 passes for 459 yards and five touchdowns in 2010. There is competition and potential at quarterback. Sophomores Stump Godfrey and Tarean Austin gained experience last season. Junior B.R. Holbrook will miss spring ball but will compete for the job in the summer. True freshman Dustin Walton has potential and already is enrolled. There's depth at linebacker. Carmen Messina has led the Mountain West in tackles in each of the past two seasons. Joe Stoner and Spencer Merritt have potential, and transfer Javarie Johnson (Maryland) has the tools to play in 2011. The defensive line could be solid. T Ugo Uzodinma has big-time potential. T Calvin Smith played as a true freshman and only will get better. Reggie Ellis and Brett Kennedy are big bodies who will help with the pass rush.

Help is needed

The offensive line must get better. C Dillon Farrell is the lone returning full-time starter and should improve. T Darryl Johnson started the final six games and steadily got better. Mid-year JC transfer Korian Chambers could take over the left tackle spot. At 6 feet 6 and 350 pounds, he's massive. Mike Muniz and Calvin McDowney, who split time last season, will battle at guard. Work also is needed in the secondary. New Mexico has improved its athleticism and quickness through recruiting. JC transfers Destry Berry and DeShon Marman, who will go through spring drills, could play early.

3 guys to watch

LB Javarie Johnson. A transfer from Maryland, Johnson has size (6-3/210), is physical and moves well. He was a four-star recruit and one of the most heralded prospects in Maryland's 2010 recruiting class.

WR Deon Long: Eligible after transferring from West Virginia, Long is an athletic playmaker. Long was one of the nation's top prep school prospects after the 2009 season. Coaches hopes Long can be a consistent big-play guy, something this offense has lacked.

WR Lamaar Thomas. A 60-meter sprinter on the track team, Thomas is eligible after transferring from Ohio State. Thomas, a sophomore, runs a 10.3 100 meters and was Maryland state champ in the 55- and 100-meter dashes in high school. Thomas is another transfer expected to inject big-play ability on the perimeter of the offense.

The pressure is on

DT Ugo Uzodinma: He signed with Illinois, then transferred after his redshirt freshman season in 2008. Uzodinma remains a raw prospect, having played just two years of high school football. He debuted with the Lobos last season and showed flashes. He needs to have a strong spring for a New Mexico defense that has been too soft.

The buzz

It's an understatement to say that this is the most important spring of Locksley's tenure. He must develop an overhauled coaching staff and find numerous answers on both sides of the ball for a program that needs to show significant progress. Locksley finally has a roster filled mostly with his players. Some were surprised he was retained after a tough first two seasons, and this may be Locksley's last chance. He needs to get it done this spring.

Tom Dienhart is a national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dienhart@yahoo-inc.com, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.


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