ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Freshmen played last season out of necessity
Cranston Jones was a young Lobo, a mere cub, thrown to the wolves.
Or was he?
It was out of necessity, coach Bob Davie said in August, that most of his 2012 true freshmen would have to play rather than watch from the sidelines as redshirts. His first UNM team, he said, severely lacked depth.
Texas-San Antonio at New Mexico, University Stadium, time and TV TBA
Yet, Jones does not look back on his freshman season as someone might recall being dropped into deep water while tied up in a burlap bag.
A learning experience, yes. A nightmare, no.
“It was a long, rough season, but I made it through pretty good,” says Jones, who played in 13 games last season and started four at cornerback. “I’m looking forward (this fall) to doing a lot better than I did last year.”
Jones entered the UNM program better equipped than most, Davie says, to play immediately. A Texas Class 4A All-State cornerback at West Mesquite High School, he was small (5-foot-9, 167 pounds) but savvy.
“We thought he could come in and contribute right away,” Davie says, “because of the football background he has. And he continues to do that.
“He’s really smart, and that’s a big part of it.”
Jones’ true-freshman year could hardly have gotten off to a better start. In the Lobos’ season-opening rout of Southern, he entered the game in relief, picked off a Jaguars pass and returned it 39 yards for a touchdown.
After that, things got tougher. The Lobos lost their final six games and finished 4-9. Jones, pressed into service as a starter because of injuries to more experienced players, finished with 10 tackles, a fumble recovery and two pass breakups in addition to the interception against Southern.
In a deeper, more established program, Jones might have four years’ eligibility remaining instead of three and might be preparing for this season as redshirt freshman and not a sophomore.
Jones said he’s glad to have had the experience of 2012 as a template for 2013.
“To me, you learn more off the field than on the field,” he says. “You come off the field, you go to meetings, the coach tells you this and tells you that, and you try to take that (back) on the field.
“The offseason, the winter, the spring and the summer, is where you grow and develop as a football player. Then you go into the fall, and you take everything you’ve acquired over those times and take it onto the field.”
If that sounds like a quote from an upperclassman, says UNM defensive coordinator and secondary coach Jeff Mills, perhaps that’s because today’s players come prepared.
The option of a redshirt year is fine, Mills says, but it needn’t be the norm – depth concerns or not.
“There are (more) ballplayers nowadays that are ready to play as a true freshman than back in the old days – maybe when I played,” Mills says. “They’re prepared in the weight room; they’re prepared physically; they’re getting great coaching.
“(Jones) was ready to play; that’s the whole thing. If they’re ready to play, you play them.”
Mills’ cornerbacks corps is predominantly young, but not devoid of experience.
Rio Rancho junior Tim Foley started six games last year. Sophomores Rashad and Vershad Jackson, identical twins, saw action as true freshmen.
Junior SaQwan Edwards has moved to cornerback from wide receiver but has no game experience, other than in high school, in the secondary. But Mills likes his size (6-1, 188), speed and aptitude.
“I think it’s a good group,” Mills says, “and they’ll continue to get better because they want to.”
What Jones wants is to play the kind of man-to-man press coverage he played at West Mesquite.
“I think that will make a big difference for us this year,” he said, “if we can let the corners turn loose, just play man and lock down on the receivers.”
Mills wants that, too.
“I think everybody would like to say, ‘Hey, if you’ve got the ability to do it, tell that guy to play a little bump and run and take a (wide receiver) out of the equation.’ ” Mills says. “That makes your defense better.
“When you’ve got great guys on the corners that can do that, can lock down, then you’ve got multiple things you can do in the front.”
Jones, with a season of college football behind him, intends to be that kind of guy.
Lobos’ young secondary has some experienceFreshmen played last season out of necessityGREG SORBER/JOURNALLobo cornerback Cranston Jones stretches out during spring practice. Jones played his freshman year instead of being redshirted.Texas-San Antonio at New Mexico, University Stadium, time and TV TBA
— This article appeared on page D1 of the Albuquerque Journal