A preview of UNM spring football

Onward and upward, right? That’s certainly how University of New Mexico football has trended the past two years.

And it stands to reason that, as year six of the Bob Davie era gets under way with Wednesday’s first of 15 spring practices, even better things are ahead after a 9-4 record last fall.

Yet, a look at the Lobos’ personnel picture clearly shows there are no guarantees and that there are holes to fill — particularly on defense, where nine starters are gone.

Here, then, with returning starters noted with an asterisk, is a position group-by-position group survey:

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(Note: only scholarship players are listed).

Offense

Quarterback

Returning: Senior Lamar Jordan*, junior JaJuan Lawson, redshirt freshman Tevaka Tuioti.

Departed: Austin Apodaca.

Due in the fall: junior Cameron Burston, freshman Bryson Carroll.

The outlook: Jordan, a terrific runner in UNM’s option-based offense, showed improvement as a passer late last season. Lawson, Tuioti and Carroll have skill sets similar to Jordan’s. Apodaca’s passing ability likely will be missed. Burston, 6-4 and 210, could be the classic run-pass quarterback Davie has never had at UNM, but will have a lot to absorb when he arrives this summer.

Running back

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Returning: Seniors Richard McQuarley, Daryl Chestnut and Romell Jordan; juniors Tyrone Owens* and Diquon Woodhouse; redshirt freshmen Kentrail Moran and Daevon Vigilant.

Departed: Teriyon Gipson*.

Here in the spring: junior Coltin Gerhart.

The outlook: Gipson led the nation last fall in yards per carry (8.8), but guess who was No. 2? Owens, at 8.0. This is a talented and diverse group. Moran and Vigilant, provided the latter comes all the way back from a torn ACL suffered in August, were among the most highly recruited UNM signees in the 2016 class. Gerhart, who played quarterback in high school and safety at Arizona State, likely will find his way onto the field somehow, somewhere.

Wide receiver

Returning: Seniors Chris Davis and Emmanuel Harris; juniors Delane Hart-Johnson*, Patrick Reed* and Matt Quarells; sophomores Q’ Drennan and Anu Somoye; redshirt freshmen Jay Griffin and Anselem Umeh.

Departed: Dameon Gamblin*.

Incoming: No scholarships awarded.

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The outlook: Gamblin, UNM’s leading receiver the past two seasons, will be missed. But wide receivers coach/offensive coordinator Bob DeBesse is delighted to welcome back Hart-Johnson, who sat out last season after suffering serious injuries in a car crash. Hart-Johnson, an inviting target at 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds, averaged 29.7 yards per catch in 2015. A remarkable amount of talent here, considering how run-oriented the offense has been and likely will continue to be.

Tight end

Returning: Sophomores Erik Beilman and Dyson Chmura.

Departed: Cole Gautsche*, Michael Walsh, Nick Lehman.

Here in the spring: True freshman Marcus Williams.

Due in the fall: True freshman Daniel Peabody.

The outlook: It’s surprising UNM didn’t sign a junior college tight end — they did recruit at least one — considering no tight end on the 2017 roster has played so much as a snap of college football. The situation, as it is, suggests there’s a high level of confidence in the potential of the returning and incoming players listed here.

Offensive line

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Returning: Seniors Blaise Fountain*, Avery Jordan*, Ray Baylor III;  juniors Aaron Jenkins*, Nick Iacovangelo; sophomores Izrael Castellanos, Charlie Grammel, Beau Hott,  Taylor Lindsey, redshirt freshmen Jonathan Brys, Kameron Smith.

Departed: Garrett Adcock*, Darian Allen, Tevita Fonua, Reno Henderson*, Chris Lewis*.

Here in the spring: Junior Sammy Benard.

Due in the fall: True freshman Dylan Weaver.

The outlook: Replacing Lewis and Henderson on the left side will be a chore, but there’s no shortage of candidates. This group jelled quickly last fall under first-year coach Saga Tuitele, and there’s no reason to think the trend won’t continue.

Defensive line

Returning: Seniors Garrett Hughes*, Kene Okonkwo, Ewing Simmons, Johnny Williams; junior Cody Baker*; redshirt freshmen Nahje Flowers, Emmanuel Joseph, Teton Saltes.

Departed: Nik D’Avanzo*, Taylor Timmons, William Udeh*.

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Here in the spring: Junior Jermane Conyers.

Due in the fall: Sophomore Aaron Blackwell.

The outlook: Hughes and Baker have shared the right end spot the past two years; one of the two easily could move to replace D’Avanzo on the left side. Okonkwo and Williams, though not starters, have seen considerable action. The three redshirt freshmen — Joseph, Flowers and Valley’s Saltes — are a talented group and should be heard from.

Linebackers

Returning: Seniors Kimmie Carson*, Austin Ocasio, Everett Powell and Evah Tohi; junior Alex Hart; true freshman Rashaun Epting.

Departed: Dakota Cox*, Maurice Daniels, Donnie White*.

Here in the spring: Junior Jordan Flack.

Due in the fall: Juniors Rashaun Boyce, Amonai Itaaehau, Sitiveni Tamaivena.

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The outlook: Cox, who led UNM in tackles for the past four years, is gone. But Hart is the heir apparent, and he, Carson, Ocasio and Tohi should make for a strong rotation on the inside. Replacing White and Daniels at outside rush might actually be the tougher task. Powell, Epting and Flack will be auditioning in the spring.

Cornerbacks

Returning: Seniors Jadon Boatright* and Marquez Mackey; junior Blair Manly; sophomore Elijah Lilly; redshirt freshman Corey Hightower.

Departed: Isaiah Brown*, Nias Martin*.

Here in the spring: Juniors Willie Hobdy, D’Angelo Ross.

Due in the fall: Junior Jalin Burrell, freshman Marcus Hayes.

The outlook: Davie, defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove and corners coach Al Simmons want to play man coverage behind an aggressive, blitzing front. Candidates abound, but only Boatright has played extensive snaps.

Safeties

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Returning: seniors Jake Rothschiller* and Jacob Girgle; juniors Stanley Barnwell and Bijon Parker; redshirt freshmen Kameron Miller and Gabe Ortega.

Departed: Lee Crosby*, Daniel Henry*, Ryan Santos*.

Here in the spring: Junior Michael Sewell.

Due in the fall: True freshman Nico Bolden.

The outlook: Of this group, only Rothschiller at nickel has more than a little experience. Girgle, Barnwell and Parker likely will get the first call in replacing Henry and Santos at free and strong safety.

Special teams:

Returning: senior kicker Jason Sanders*, senior punter Corey Bojorquez*, sophomore kick returner Elijah Lilly*, senior punt returner Chris Davis*.

Departed: deep snapper Steven Romero*.

Here in the spring: deep snapper Case Hampton.

Outlook: Couldn’t be much better, provided Hampton is as automatic as Romero was and that the blockers and tacklers on the various units give Sanders, Bojorquez, Lilly and Davis the requisite help.

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