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Spring superlatives: New Mexico

4/8/2010

After a 1-11 season, there’s nowhere to go but up for New Mexico, and coach Mike Locksley believes that’s where his team is heading this spring. Despite some off-field distraction, the Lobos actually got better as the season progressed last year and Locksley is confident that his team is better for the experience.

Here’s a look at the strongest and weakest positions for New Mexico this spring:

Strongest position: Defensive line

Key returners: Junior defensive end Johnathan Rainey (52 tackles, 15.5 tackles for loss, 9.5 sacks), senior tackle Peter Gardner (39 tackles, five tackles for loss), junior end Jaymar Latchison (46 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks)

Key departures: Tackle Kendall Briscoe (46 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss, three sacks)

The skinny: Rainey led the Mountain West Conference in tackles for loss and returns as one of the better defensive ends in the conference. The defensive line was one of the few bright spots for the Lobos last year and should continue to get better this season with three returning starters and new coach Rubin Carter. Also, the Lobos stand to get a significant talent boost this summer when prized recruit Calvin Smith arrives on campus. That should more than make up for the loss of Briscoe.

Weakest position: Quarterback

Key returners: Sophomore B.R. Holbrook (19-of-34 passing, 170 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions), junior Brad Gruner (in 2008: 53.8 completion percentage, 1,037 yards, three touchdowns, six interceptions)

Key departures: Donovan Porterie (57.6 completion percentage, 2,411 yards, 12 touchdowns, 13 interceptions)

The skinny: Holbrook is the last quarterback standing halfway through spring football after both Gruner and junior Tate Smith went down with injuries. Gruner suffered a torn MCL earlier this week and Smith has been recovering from offseason shoulder surgery and a slight strain in his upper back. New Mexico has no plans to announce a starting quarterback until August when incoming freshmen Darian Godfrey and Tarean Austin have a chance to compete. The Lobos are looking for someone who can lead them into the end zone and limit turnovers. They ranked 113th in scoring offense and 97th in turnover margin nationally last season.