ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — When Bob Davie arrived at the University of New Mexico in the spring of 2012, his offensive line was – by the new head coach’s own description – dysfunctional.
Before things got better, they got worse. Several players left the program, unable or unwilling to meet the demands of new offensive line coach Jason Lenzmeier. That first spring, Davie and Lenzmeier didn’t have enough O-linemen to field two complete units.
Yet, the past two seasons, UNM’s offensive linemen have become – as many a sign in many a football locker room has said – starting blocks for great runs. The Lobos ranked fifth nationally in rushing in 2012, fourth last season.
This fall, the Lobos will line up without two offensive linemen, Dillon Farrell and Darryl Johnson, who started a combined 82 games for UNM and are now in NFL training camps. Calvin McDowney, a sometime starter and the Lobos’ biggest O-lineman at 350 pounds, also has exhausted his eligibility.
And, at least for the time being, UNM is without a returning starter in Jamal Price. The senior guard has been suspended indefinitely after his arrest Monday night on domestic violence charges.
Regardless of Price’s status moving forward, some major renovations will be necessary.
Yet, if Lenzmeier has anything to say about it – and he does – the great runs will continue in 2014.
Of Farrell and Johnson’s departure, Lenzmeier said: “That’s the nature of the beast. I’m happy for those guys. They’re moving on, doing some good things.
“We’ve got some young guys that have got some ability. We don’t have a lot of numbers, per se, right now, but we’ve got some quality players and just finding the five best that work together (is the task at hand).”
Of Price’s absence, he said: “There’s 100 million things that happen, injuries and all sorts of things. … It’s great for those young guys to get in and get (extra practice repetitions).”
Besides, it’s not as if Lenzmeier is starting from scratch.
Fifth-year senior offensive lineman LaMar Bratton is a preseason All-Mountain West Conference selection.
Bratton, a starter since his redshirt freshman year, is likely to take over for Farrell at center after playing left guard the past two years.
“(Price) is a guy that we’re missing right now,” Bratton said, “but it’s nice to see the young guys step up and realize that a spot is open right now.”
Junior Johnny Vizcaino, a starter at right tackle most of last season, returns. Redshirt sophomore Reno Henderson, who sat out the 2013 season after transferring from New Mexico Military Institute, emerged after spring practice as Johnson’s likely successor at left tackle.
Redshirt freshman Toye Adewon is listed on UNM’s preliminary roster as Price’s backup at right guard. Lenzmeier said junior college transfer Eden Mahina, who spent most of spring practice at center, also has been taking snaps at that spot.
Davie calls Adewon, a 6-foot-4, 323-pounder, one of the best prospects he has coached during his long career.
“He’s one of the most talented kids on this field,” Davie said. “… (But) his maturity has to catch up with his physical ability.”
If Bratton stays at center, redshirt sophomore Garrett Adcock is the likely starter at left guard. Adcock started several games at guard as a true freshman in 2012.
But nothing is certain after two days of preseason practice, Lenzmeier said.
“No one’s locked in anywhere,” he said. “That’s kind of the fun part about it, too, is we can move them around.”
In Year 3 of the Davie era, only two of UNM’s 15 offensive linemen – Bratton and redshirt junior Dillon Romine – were in the program before the current staff arrived. This group, Bratton said, understands what Lenzmeier demands of it and why.
“(New players) are gonna come in with the mindset that ‘I’m not gonna come in here and act out,'” Bratton said. “It’s just a nice thing to know that guys know what they’re getting into, and that when they come in they’ve already bought into the system.”
TALKIN’ ABOUT PRACTICE: The Lobos worked out Friday on synthetic turf at University Stadium because recent rains have softened the natural turf on the practice fields.
“We practiced (Thursday) on the (natural) turf and chewed it up a little bit,” Davie said. “Then we got that heavy rain after we left the field, and I just don’t want to tear the heck out of that field. It’s a long season.”