LAS CRUCES – Tyler Rogers has not taken a Division I snap, but he’s already drawing rave reviews.
A junior college transfer from Arizona Western, Rogers is set to be the New Mexico State Aggies’ starting quarterback in Thursday’s season opener against Cal Poly.
It’s fair to say Rogers’ debut is highly anticipated around Aggie Memorial Stadium. Just asking about the 6-foot-3, 200-pound signal caller is enough to generate smiles and nods among NMSU’s coaches and players.
“Having a guy like Tyler is big for us,” senior center Valerian Ume-Ezeoke said. “He’s pretty much a dual-threat quarterback, very mobile, can get out of a rush and throw on the run. Offensive linemen love a quarterback like that.”
So does Aggies coach Doug Martin.
Throughout 2013, his first season as NMSU’s head coach, Martin emphasized the importance of playmaking quarterbacks to midmajor football programs. No slight intended to then-Aggies QB Andrew McDonald, but he was not the fleet-footed, run-pass threat Martin coveted for his preferred spread attack.
One recruiting class later, New Mexico State’s roster includes no fewer than seven quarterbacks. Five of them are freshmen and all are mobile.
“I think we’re light years ahead of last year at the quarterback position,” Martin said.
Martin likes what he’s seen from some of the freshmen during preseason practice and intrasquad scrimmages, but Rogers has separated himself. He has a gunslinger mentality to go along with his physical tools.
“Tyler extends plays,” Martin said, “and opens the playbook. He gives us options we didn’t have last year.”
That’s good news for an Aggies team that will likely have to rely on offense to carry it early in the season. NMSU’s defense could have as many as six freshmen starting in Thursday’s season opener against Cal Poly – and most of the returnees will be playing new positions.
“No question,” Martin said, “we’ve got to score points.”
The good news for NMSU fans is the Aggie offense appears capable of doing just that. Ume-Ezeoke, who has been named to the preseason Rimington Award watch list for a second straight season, is one of four returning starters on the offensive line. (The Rimington Award is presented annually to the nation’s top center.)
“We feel like our line’s going to be a strength,” Ume-Ezeoke said. “We’re a veteran group, and everybody came back in great shape.”
If the line is solid as advertised, Martin is confident he has enough playmakers to get the job done. New Mexico State lost its top pass receiver from last season when Austin Franklin declared for the NFL draft.
But Martin believes wide receiver may now be NMSU’s deepest position. Returnees Joshua Bowen, Adam Shapiro, Jerrel Brown and Jordan Bergstrom combined for 137 catches last season, and redshirt freshmen Gregory Hogan and Teldrick Morgan can bring the explosive plays.
“Hogan and Morgan are similar to Austin Franklin,” Martin said, “only bigger.”
Rogers has been thoroughly impressed by NMSU’s receiver corps.
“The weapons we have in this offense are ridiculous,” he said. “So many guys can get open and make plays. I have 100 percent confidence in our receivers, no matter who’s out there.”
Passing will be at a premium for the Aggies, but Martin also hopes to see an improved rushing attack. NMSU averaged just 3.8 yards per rush last season and leading rusher Germi Morrison was a senior.
Martin believes having a true run threat at quarterback will open things in the rushing game. That’s music to the ears of Rogers, who rushed for 364 yards and 10 touchdowns last season.
“I’ve run spread offenses in high school and junior college, and I think it plays to my strengths,” Rogers said. “I’ve always liked running the ball. The difference here is the coaches are trying to get me to slide. I’m trying but it’s not easy to make yourself do it in the middle of a game.”
NMSU has several other rushing threats available, including returnees Brandon Betancourt and Xavier Hall. Newcomers Larry Rose and Marquette Washington have shown big-play ability during training camp as well.
All in all, New Mexico State may now have enough playmakers on offense to keep fans entertained and opposing defenses nervous. Martin conceded NMSU may have to win a few shootouts while its inexperienced defense matures, but Rogers does not feel any added pressure on his shoulders.
“I don’t think about that at all,” he said. “Our defense is young but fast, and those guys will do their jobs.
“As an offense we just have to focus on what we do: move the ball and put points on the board. I think we’ll be able to make it happen.”