UNM builds depth, talent and chemistry in the offensive line - Albuquerque Journal

UNM builds depth, talent and chemistry in the offensive line

CJ James isn’t afraid of most things, especially a taser.

James, the University of New Mexico’s 6-foot-4, 290-pound center, epitomizes the Lobos’ much-improved offensive line, eager to step up to a challenge.

With so many new faces on the offensive line, the unit will need to mesh and find chemistry quickly to breathe life into a stagnant offense.

UNM offensive line coach Jason Lenzmeier, who also played for the Lobos, provided unique activities during the offseason so the big men could bond.

The coach everyone calls “Lenz” took the offensive linemen for special training with the Albuquerque Police Department.

During the training, James volunteered to be tased.

“I’m a type of dude I want to try everything one time,” said James, a transfer from Abilene Christian in Texas. “Getting tased, that’s something that’s been on my bucket list.”

Still, the experience was no laughing matter.

“Imagine a cramp but in your whole body – all over. It was painful,” James said. “I ain’t gonna lie. When you get tased, you can’t move.”

Lenzmeier was also tased, as was redshirt freshman Jacob Webb, James said.

UNM’s Isaiah Sillemon (70) works during Lobo football practice in Albuquerque on Saturday, August 6, 2022. (Chancey Bush/ Albuquerque Journal)

In addition, the UNM offensive linemen held hands. The policemen taped them together so each of them could experience a brief touch from the taser.

Left tackle J.C. Davis, a 6-5, 320-pound transfer from Contra Costa College in San Pablo, California, said he could tell it was very painful just from the indirect short shock and was happy it was no more than that.

Right tackle DJ Wingfield, a 6-4, 310-pound transfer from El Camino College in Torrance, California, said the police training helped unify the linemen, who also bond through frequent dinners or just hanging out since they all live near each other.

“We came here to change the program,” James said. “We’re supposed to be turning this thing around. Pretty much this whole season relies on us and what we do. I don’t know what happened last year, but that’s out the window. We’re here now.”

Their main objectives are as simple as the two-letter names for three of the UNM offensive line: CJ, J.C. and DJ.

They want to use their massive size to overpower defensive linemen and their athleticism to open holes for running backs or give more time for the quarterback to find an open receiver.

In Year 3 of the Danny Gonzales Era, the Lobos’ coach believes this is his best offensive line.

“As far as depth, size and ability, I don’t even think it’s close,” Gonzales said. “They have to go out there against Maine and prove it and go against Boise State and prove it. They’ve gotta continue to clean up assignments. When you know what you’re doing and how to do it, you can play so much faster. I think there’s another gear that we can get them to.”

Redshirt freshman running back Nate Jones, who added speed and power during the offseason, believes in the UNM offensive line so much that he has set high expectations for his own season – 15 touchdowns and at least 1,000 yards rushing.

While there are many new faces among the offensive linemen, the unit does have two returners in redshirt freshman right guard Shancco “Ise” Matautia and left guard Isaak Gutierrez.

During preseason camp, UNM has 19 offensive linemen, including more size in Jer’Marques Bailey (6-6, 330 pounds), Arrison Cole (6-7, 310) and Webb (6-5, 325).

Lenzmeier said two more players, both walk-ons, will join the offensive line group on Aug. 22 when classes begin.

“I think we have a pretty good group,” Lenzmeier said. “There are a lot of new guys. These guys have gelled together. A lot of these guys live together. They’re all from different parts of the country, but they came here and decided they want to help us win a championship. It’s pretty neat. They’re a unique group of guys and pretty talented so far.”

The Lobos say they’re especially fortunate when it comes to coaching with Lenzmeier and graduate assistant Byron Bell, the former Lobo who played eight years in the NFL, on staff.

Many of the offensive linemen say Bell is “one of us,” and they are inspired by his pro path that began as an undrafted free agent and included stops at Carolina, Dallas, Tennessee and Green Bay.

The UNM offensive linemen listen to what the coaches say, even if it means going through police training or camping in tents in the Jemez Mountains.

Davis, who is from Oakland, said that at first, he did not want to go camping because he had never camped before. But he ended up enjoying the experience, especially when the offensive linemen went ATV riding.

“We rode through mud, up mountains,” Davis said. “It was really fun.”

Lenzmeier knew a camping trip would be important. He believes he has a talented group.

They just need to gain chemistry.

“We’ve done a really good job in recruiting,” Lenzmeier said. “We went after some guys and got them. … We’re three deep in every position at least and we’re four-deep at some positions. It’s bringing competition, guys competing for spots.”

Just the way Lenz wants it.

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