Spring Sessions Saw NMSU Receivers Rise To The Challenge

Written by: Teddy Feinberg/Sun-News Sports Editor

LAS CRUCES, N.M. - Perhaps the most impressive aspect of spring football at New Mexico State University this year was the development of the team's three newcomers at wide receiver.

Marcus Anderson, LaVorick Williams and Julius Fleming all opened eyes in camp with their blend of speed, quickness and catching ability and are sure to play a role this season in the team's Air-Raid system, which sees the Aggies throw the ball all over the field in an attempt to put points on the board quickly.

"Gosh, they are exciting," head coach Hal Mumme said. "They all made plays and will continue to do so. I think the biggest thing they bring to the table is speed. We just haven't had that in years past."

In Saturday's Crimson versus White scrimmage, Fleming caught nine balls for 94 yards and a touchdown, Anderson added seven grabs for 74 yards and a score and Williams tallied eight catches for 54 yards in the defense's 35-17 win.

"Everybody did a good job getting comfortable in the offense," Fleming said of the group's progress during spring ball. "We showed we can step in, execute and run the system."

Anderson, who played last year at Pasadena City College, said that he thinks the receiver corps, which was without starters Chris Williams, A.J. Harris and Wes Neiman on Saturday night, will be an explosive and diverse group.

"We hope to be a well oiled machine rolling into the fall," Anderson said.

On a side note, backup quarterback J.J. McDermott completed 32-of-49 passes for 281 yards and two TDs. Simple logic sees McDermott throwing to the three young targets in the seasons to come, as they remain the future of the program beyond 2008.

"They're basically all in my age group," McDermott said. "I get to play with them next year and we're just looking to build on the field, build our chemistry. Times like these will make us better down the road."

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While it's difficult to truly gauge how far the defense has come — they spent most of Saturday playing against the Aggies second-team offense — it remains apparent that the team will blitz more and try to create havoc in the opposition's backfield.

Defensive coordinator Joe Lee Dunn likes his unit to play close to the line of scrimmage and give a number of different looks along the line. On Saturday, NMSU tallied four sacks and created other pressure situations where McDermott was forced to step up in the pocket or roll out and throw the ball away.

The spring game also saw the defense sniff out a handful of wide receiver screens that are prominent in Mumme's offensive system.

"We're a lot more aggressive this year," cornerback Davon House said. "We like to put pressure on the quarterback. That makes the offense rush and throw the ball before they're ready. And that causes turnovers."

NMSU recorded six sacks on the evening as well as 12 tackles for a loss.

One player who has impressed this spring has been Justen Alford, who continued to make an impact on Saturday.

Alford, who came to NMSU from Feather River College, entered camp slated to play linebacker. The team moved him to nose guard however and he has proven to be a load on the interior of the defensive line.

Alford, who weighs just 227 pounds, is considered undersized for the position, but the staff has been impressed by his high motor and explosion off the ball. In the spring game, Alford had a sack and three TFLs.

"Justen Alford has been tough to block ever since he got here," Mumme said.

Alford said that he was a defensive end in high school before moving to linebacker at the JUCO level. He said that he'll play anywhere, as long as it helps the ballclub win games.

"I'll play standing up, I'll battle with my hand on the ground," Alford said. "One thing about playing in the middle of the line is, you gotta be a man. I'll be going against guys who are all 300 pounds or more, and here I am at 220. It's cool though. I'm down to fight, and I'll give it everything I've got."

Another player who came on to help the Aggies in the spring was defensive back Brennan Baiamonte, a fifth-year member of the team from Albuquerque. Baiamonte received little playing time under the previous regime. That seems to have changed now, as he has seen significant action since Dunn's arrival.

The coordinator likes Baiamonte's speed and covets a big safety in the secondary, something the 6-foot-1, 211 pound senior provides. Baiamonte broke up two McDermott passes on Saturday and added a tackle to the stat sheet.

"I feel at home in this defense and at safety," Baiamonte said. "The new staff likes what I bring to the table. It's just nice to be back out on the field again."

NMSU has one more spring workout coming on Monday before packing it in until summer practice leading into the season. NMSU is scheduled to open the year at home against Nicholls State on Sept. 4.

Teddy Feinberg can be reached at tfeinberg@lcsun-news.com