Royal Gill, a 6-foot-5, 220-pound junior college transfer, was named the starter Aug. 17 at the team's training camp in Gallup. He and fellow junior Joey Vincent played to as close to a draw as you can get through Spring and Fall practice, forcing Mumme to dub their position battle, "the hardest quarterback decision I've had to make (in his coaching career)."
Mumme has stressed it is vital his starting quarterback get the majority of snaps in practice because the success of his surprisingly basic offense is predicated on timing and repetition.
Gill transferred from Pima (Ariz.) Community College where he threw for a shade under 2,000 yards and had a mind-boggling touchdown to interception ratio of 17-1. Assuming he stays healthy — Mumme says he has never had a quarterback miss a snap due to injury — Gill will have the opportunity in this offense to lead the nation in several passing categories.
Led by quarterback-turned-receiver Paul Dombrowski and former Mayfield High standout Tim Tolbert, the receiving corps is as deep as NMSU has ever had.
Dombrowski is one of those rare breeds that could strap on a pair of ice skates for the first time and probably earn a roster spot on a college hockey team if he wanted. Sports come easy to him and he took to his new role as a receiver this Spring like a duck to water.
He might not lead the team in receptions, yards or touchdowns, but at the end of the year the team's best playmaker will have his stamp on plenty of big plays.
Then there's Tolbert whose precision route running and glue-like hands make him a quarterback's dream.
The well doesn't run dry after Dombrowski and Tolbert, either. In an offense that will often employ up to five passing options per play, any one of a number of receivers will step in and make plays. Anthony Lonon, Stevelan Harper, Jarrod Kaufman, Derek Dubois, Andrew Mooney and true freshmen Chris Williams (led New Mexico in rushing in 2004 out of Rio Rancho), A.J. Harris and Chris Woods have all also been very much in the mix.
At running back, 5-foot-8, 190-pound junior Muammar Ali has the potential to blossom in the space created by Mumme's passing game and fits this offense far better than the power-I option attack in which he was recruited to play.
After a minor shoulder injury kept him from stealing the spotlight in the Crimson Bowl (Spring game), Ali is fully healthy heading into the season and has the ability and scheme to post some video game-like statistics this season.
Ali will be spelled by El Paso native David Romaka and the third spot on the depth chart held by Dawson Wilber
Whichever quarterback gets the nod under center better hope the offensive line in front of him stays healthy. A lack of depth on the offensive line is a major concern for the Aggies, but the starting five can hold its own against anybody.
Right guard Nick Cole (6-3, 340) is one of the best lineman in the conference.
A pending drunken driving charge from June for center Mike Martinez 6-5, 327) could lead to some missed time, but Mumme and the university will await adjudication of the case before announcing what, if any, punishment he will receive.
Left tackle Kyle Smith (6-3, 265), left guard Justin Shopbell (6-4, 298) and right tackle Alex Gottlieb (6-4, 280) are all above average lineman, but backups are unproven, to say the least.
Cottrell is a rock and the transition into Widenhofer's 3-4 scheme allows arguably the second best defender on the team — middle linebacker John Howell — to get on the field every down rather than standing on the sideline as Cottrell's backup, as he did in 2004.
The pair are both versatile enough to play the run and pass. Cottrell, a 6-1, 238-pound senior, will try to lead the team in tackles for his fourth consecutive season. Howell (6-1, 248) served in the U.S. Army for four years and was a stellar NAIA pitcher before coming to NMSU.
Paterra, who along with Widenhofer has coached a plethora of top linebackers in the pro and collegiate ranks, says Cottrell has the potential to be in the NFL draft after this season and added he's never coached a better leader.
The outside linebackers will be solid with Brandon McKinney (6-3, 262) and Dustin Sober (6-2, 223) starting. Tim McManigal (6-foot, 215) is a high-energy guy who could serve as the bacup for any one of the four linebacker positions.
The defensive line will be maned by After Chase Spicer (6-5, 262) and Jarod Naylor (6-2, 262), the rest of the unit is thin and unproven, but has shown promise in the Fall.
Nose tackle Sam Ford (6-3, 295) should anchor the middle and the better he does, the more freedom Cottrell and Howell will have to shine. Several incoming freshmen could find some time on the field, including 6-foot-3, 276-pound nose guard Polo Gutierrez and 6-2, 270-pound defensive end Richard Bolin.
After cornerback Shukree Shabazz and free safety Matt Griebel, the starters in the secondary have yet to be established and might be vulnerable. The right cornerback battle between Gill Byrd and Courtney Bryan is intense and both are capable starters.
Griebel, another player Widenhofer and Paterra have raved about, will likely play out his senior season with a soft cast on his forearm after breaking it in two places in Spring ball.
He and Shabazz could push for post season honors. But when it comes to passing attacks in the Western Athletic Conference, Mumme's Air Raid offense isn't the only game in town. For the Aggies to win any games, the secondary will have to step up and not give up the big play against some of the country's highest scoring offenses.
Special teams is a yet to be determined group and Mumme has shown a propensity to keep his kickers and punters on the sideline with him in the past.
Brad Evans will likely punt for the Aggies and might kick, although double duty kicking is a risky venture. A battle is in place for the place kicking job.
Todd Walker, Conner Foley and Nolan Wallace are battling for the starting spot. Foley showed flashes of brillance at the team's camp in Gallup.
The return game should feature anyone of numerous highly athletic and fast players.