CNJ staff photo: Kevin Wilson ENMU football coach Mark Ribaudo is entering his fifth season as the Greyhounds’ head coach after eight seasons as an assistant coach under Bud Elliott. The Hounds begin spring practice on Monday.
By Kevin Wilson: CNJ staff writer
PORTALES — The Eastern New Mexico Greyhounds are no longer a former option offense switching to the spread. As coach Mark Ribaudo says, they’re a spread offense trying to compete in the Lone Star Conference.
“It’s not a transition any more,” said Ribaudo, set to enter his fifth year at the helm. “The offense is in, we’re just trying to get better at it. We’re in step two. We’ve run it for a year, we’ve done film study.”
Step two starts Monday with spring football practice. Weather permitting, the Hounds will have 3 p.m. practices four days a week (taking Wednesdays off) and scrimmage at 9 a.m. on both April 11 and 18 at Greyhound Stadium.
The three-week season concludes with the team’s 3 p.m. Green/Silver scrimmage April 25.
Junior-to-be Ryan Torres used his spring break to visit a friend at Purdue University, and he got a look at the Boilermakers’ spring practice.
“It pushed me a lot,” said Torres, a 6-foot-2, 265-pound center from Fort Worth. “They work just as hard as we do. They just have a little bit better facilities. Just seeing that got me so pumped.”
After a young team took its lumps in a 2-9 campaign, Torres and Ribaudo hope this is the year the revamped Greyhound squad takes off.
“We’re still infants,” Ribaudo said, “but we’re going to grow up fast.”
There’s plenty of room for improvement for the Greyhounds, who finished 0-6 in the LSC South Division:
* Offensive variety: With mobile quarterback Michael Benton behind center, the 2007 Greyhounds rushed for 316 yards a game, but were dead last in the conference with 37.6 yards passing. Eastern transitioned into a spread offense in 2008, but did little to shake the one-dimensional label — ENMU finished with 260 total rushing yards in 2008, just 17 more than Benton alone turned in during Eastern’s 2007 contest at Central Oklahoma.
Ribaudo said this year’s offense has more running plays in an attempt for more explosive plays — defined by Ribuado as a rushing play of at least 10 yards or a pass play of at least 15.
“We’re really utilizing our five-step drop,” Ribaudo said. “We used the three-step stuff pretty well last year, but we’re looking to get down the field.”
But Torres knows it all starts with protection. Part of Eastern’s running woes were due to 505 yards lost on sacks — more than double anyone else in the LSC — on a conference-high 52 sacks allowed.
Torres thinks the line will be a lot better, with the work of line coach Draco Miller and six months for the line to grow together.
“We need to just step up and protect the quarterback,” Torres said. “We’ve got a great guy behind us in (sophomore) J.J. Harp. If we do a great job, it’s going to be lights out this year.”
* Possession game: The Greyhounds had 26 takeaways last year — 15 fumble recoveries, 11 interceptions — but also had 26 turnovers. Without dominating the turnover margin, Eastern finished last in possession time and yards allowed.
“We need to create sacks and turnovers,” Ribaudo said. “We’ll bring safeties, we’ll bring corners — everyone on the field.”
Texavier Henry, who was fourth on the Greyhounds with 78 tackles last year at linebacker, said it’s a matter of trust.
“I wouldn’t say we need to make strides,” said Henry, who is primarily playing at safety this spring. “But we need to work more as a team, try to believe in each other’s abilities on the field.”
Eastern is incorporating a blitz package from the Pittsburgh Steelers, a team known for mixing up its blitzes.
“They’ll bring two guys to the same gap, four guys off of one side,” Ribaudo said. “We want to be very unpredictable.”
And Ribaudo thinks he might have a version of Steelers strong safety Troy Palomalu in Sauefin Fuahala of Irving, Texas, who’s “got a haircut just like him and flies around the field like him.”
New dogs: The spring practice roster will feature all eight signees from New Mexico Military Institute. And when the fall comes around and the freshman class comes in, Ribaudo expects plenty of competition for the 22 first-team slots.
“The guys on the roster have a big advantage,” Ribaudo said, “but there are some high school kids who might make a splash like Ross (Williams of Eldorado High School) and Troy Harris out of Rio Rancho.
“We move our depth chart according to the previous day’s performance.”