By Dave Wagner
The 2005 opener is four months off, but the Eastern New Mexico University football squad gets its first taste of “game” competition in today’s 4 p.m. Silver & Green Game at Greyhound Stadium.
Rosters were selected on Wednesday for the contest, which will be conducted under as close to game-like circumstances as possible. It will bring the four-week-long spring drills to an end for roughly 80 players.
“The main thing you try to get out of a spring game is to see where you stand under game situations,” first-year ENMU head coach Mark Ribaudo said. “It’s not called a ‘spring scrimmage,’ it’s a ‘spring game.’ We want to see how kids react when it counts, or as close to that as we can make it.
“Plus, it’s a reward. These kids have done everything we’ve asked since January, and they deserve to play.”
Offensive coordinator Mike Howard will coach the Green squad, assisted by Josh White, Mike Connelly and Randy Montoya. Running backs-quarterbacks coach Michael Walton leads the Silver team, assisted by Todd Wallis, Eric Boll and Draco Miller.
Ribaudo, ENMU’s defensive coordinator for the past seven years, will oversee everything.
Among the things the Greyhounds have worked on this spring are different tempos, a signal system for plays and advancing the passing game on offense, and the development of a new “dime” package (six defensive backs) for the defense.
“We’re also looking for attitude — how people react in different situations,” Ribaudo said.
With most of the returning talent on offense, the Hounds expect to be solid on that side of the ball. The key questions were at quarterback, where the graduating Steven Hinson ran the show for two years, and at tackle, where both starters were also seniors.
Howard said Michael Benton, who will be a redshirt sophomore in the fall, has stepped to the fore at quarterback.
“We’re really pleased with his progress,” he said of Benton, who completed 3-of-5 passes for 33 yards and a touchdown in limited duty last season.
“Steven will be an individual that will be sorely missed, because he had two years experience and was such a competitor, but Michael has picked things up. His competitive nature and his huddle control is very, very good.”
Meantime, the Hounds expect help at the tackles with the return of senior T.J. Cobb on the left side and the progress of junior Marcus Smith on the right side. Smith has been in a backup role the last two years, while Cobb was a starter in 2003 but missed all of last season with a knee injury.
There are more questions on defense. ENMU returns All-LSC South senior cornerback Corey White and junior linebacker Jeremy Mullins, who became a starter several games into last season, but most of the other positions will feature new starters.
Ribaudo said several players who will be in the mix this fall won’t play today due to injury, including senior guard Tyson Rush (ankle), junior guard Landon Schumacher (ankle), senior fullback Sukora Cooper (knee) and sophomore outside linebacker Royal Bell (shoulder).
The scrimmage is open to the public. A tailgate begins at 3 p.m., sponsored by the ENMU Bench Club, while giveaways and halftime fan contests are also planned.
The Greyhounds open the 2005 season with a 6 p.m. (MDT) clash against Central Arkansas on Aug. 25 — a Thursday — at 53,227-season War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock, Ark.