Alex Hart admits that he might be biased as a senior who wants to leave New Mexico’s football team on a high note.
But he senses something different about the 2018 Lobos.
That also goes for the defense.
“It has been a different atmosphere,” Hart, a 6-foot-3, 235-pound linebacker, said Tuesday after the Lobos’ first practice in full gear. “It’s more different and more exciting than any year I’ve been here.”
For the second straight year, Hart, from Prior Lake, Minn., has been named a team captain. His 58 total tackles were third most among Lobos last year. His leadership and experience are big reasons there are high expectations for the UNM defense, even as the Lobos are coming off a 3-9 campaign and are picked to finish last in the Mountain West Conference’s Mountain Division.
While the offense is gaining attention with an intriguing quarterback battle and a new playbook, the defense could be set for unprecedented results, mainly because of its continuity.
There are six returning starters on a defense that features great depth and experience.
“It’s easy to sit here in (the summer) and make strong statements, but I do honestly believe this is going to be the best defensive team we’ve had since we’ve been here,” said UNM coach Bob Davie, entering his seventh season with the Lobos.
“It’s time. We have continuity with the coaches. We have a lot of returning players. We have some guys that can cover, which now in college football you have to have coverage guys. I do think it can be the best defensive team we’ve had here, and I’ll be disappointed if it isn’t.”
Davie said the Lobos last year gave up the fewest numbers of yards per game (398) over the last 10 years at UNM.
“But we’re still not as good as we should be on defense,” Davie said.
Kevin Cosgrove, UNM’s defensive coordinator who also coaches the inside linebackers, has been with Davie since he arrived with the Lobos. He agrees with Davie’s strong statement, and for the same reasons.
But five days into the preseason, Cosgrove knows that his unit is definitely an unfinished product. There are starting positions to figure out, especially in the secondary, he said. He refers to the situation as players in the “rep chart” (as in repetitions) instead of looking to a depth chart.
“We’re nowhere near where we are going to be, but after five days we are doing a lot of good things,” said Cosgrove, who was the acting head coach when Davie served a 30-day suspension during spring practices.
“We’ve got some good leadership out there, guys trying to do the right things. They are just practicing hard. It’s been good.”
The Lobos do have five seniors in the secondary, including cornerbacks D’Angelo Ross and Jalin Burrell, and safeties Bijon Parker, Stanley Barnwell and Michael Sewell.
Burrell, for one, doesn’t lack for confidence, and jabbering is part of his game.
During a practice last week, tight end Daniel Peabody dropped a would-be touchdown pass from Tevaka Tuioti.
“He’s not ready,” Burrell shouted toward Peabody’s offensive teammates. “Get somebody else.”
Burrell also agreed with Davie’s high expectations for the defense. Burrell has more lofty standards.
“It might be a little early but I think me and D’Angelo Ross are two of the most talented corners in the country,” Burrell said. “That’s thanks to the coaches, (safeties coach Jordan) Peterson and (cornerbacks coach Perry) Eliano. I’m just ready to rock.”