Monday Night Football: From UNM's 'spring showcase,' three major observations - Albuquerque Journal

Monday Night Football: From UNM’s ‘spring showcase,’ three major observations

The University of New Mexico football team held its spring showcase Monday night at University Stadium. A few takeaways

1. THE FIRST-TEAM DEFENSE, as of Monday:

Zach Morris (cornerback), Donte Martin (cornerback), D’Arco Perkins-McAllister (safety), Bobby Wooden (safety), Christian Ellis (safety), Dion Hunter (linebacker), Dimitri Johnson (linebacker), Mihalis Santorineos (linebacker), Kyler Drake (defensive line), Gabriel Lopez (defensive line), Tyler Kiehne (defensive line).

This is an interesting group. Three transfers. A wide receiver-turned-safety as late as January in Wooden.

And with the exception of Hunter, it’s a lot of holdovers that were confident in their abilities heading into this spring, but largely unproven on the game sheet. Guys that had good, but maybe not great springs to this point.

Well, collectively, they showed up.

It started on the very first play. Johnson picked off quarterback Dylan Hopkins, a disguised coverage according to head coach Danny Gonzales.

“Dylan didn’t see him,” Gonzales said.

Then, the battle in the trenches. Drake was a consistently disruptive force up the middle, pairing nicely with Lopez and Kiehne up front and Perkins-McAllister coming down through the alley.

“(Drake) is the perfect epitome of a kid that we’ve built in this program,” Gonzales said.

The 3-3-5 is New Mexico football and New Mexico football is the 3-3-5. Schematically, how this defense would work — and how it would function — wasn’t a question entering spring practice.

How it would look — and who would drive it — was, though. With guys like safety Tavian Combs and linebacker Alec Marenco set to return from injury in June, this is a group that looks like it can hold up their end of the promise that came with a halfway revamped staff and a roster in flux.

That goes a long way for the give or take 400 fans in the stands – and the players involved, too.

“I think today was probably one of the better spring (games) I’ve been a part of,” Hunter said. “(The) aggression, the attitude of the guys wanting to play some ball, I feel like everybody actually wanted to go out and get after it today and that’s a great feeling to have a team like that.”

2. OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR BRYANT VINCENT wasn’t dejected following Monday night’s scrimmage. But if it wasn’t disappointment in his voice, there was a little bit of reservation.

“We’ve got a long way to go,” he chuckled.

There’s a ton of options at running back but no official bell cow. Wide receiver pairings that make sense but don’t quite light up the field.

Quarterback-wise, UAB transfer Hopkins threw three (unofficial) interceptions. Second-string D.C. Tabscott missed out on a couple of deep throws by margins both big and little.

“I don’t think he was as sharp as he’s been this spring,” Vincent said of Hopkins. “And that’s just coming with everybody (needing to) play as one, all 11 guys on the same page. He’s been in this offense four, going on five years.”

The pieces are there. “It just takes time to get all 11 guys on the same page,” Vincent said.

UNM’s spring ball score last year, though? 10-7. So, what does a 47-10 final on Monday mean in that context?

“There’s positives and negatives on both sides,” Gonzales said. “The offense did some better things. The first team defense created some short fields – which helped the offense. They were able to put the ball in the end zone.

“We can throw and catch it better. I mean, the one down to (wide receiver D.J. Washington), we haven’t thrown and caught a ball like that since I’ve been here. So there’s opportunities to spread the field out, which gives you the ability to run the ball.”

3. DIVISION I FOOTBALL programs don’t usually do Monday night spring games. But this was a good move for New Mexico. There was a slight chill in the air on an otherwise beautiful night. A view of the Sandias smoldering in the evening light.

There were food trucks on the south concourse. UNM radio broadcaster Robert Portnoy conducted in-scrimmage interviews with players for broadcast on the video board.

Families dotting the stands. Kids playing in the bleachers.

Which is all to say, it was a good vibe. For a program looking to curate more of those good feelings, this was a smart, fun move that worked well with the schedule.

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