By Dave Wagner: CNJ sports writer
PORTALES — When you watch Eastern New Mexico University football games next fall, you may not recognize the team.
ENMU begins spring drills today, and fourth-year Greyhounds coach Mark Ribaudo is planning to revamp the team’s offense and defense.
Ribaudo is implementing what he called “The Air Raid Offense” — a pass-happy approach for a team that has traditionally been a wishbone, option-oriented attack.
Defensively, he said the Hounds — 5-6 in 2007 but 0-6 in the Lone Star Conference South Division — will go from essentially a 3-5-3 set to a 3-4 approach.
“We’re trying to get more speed on the field because we play against so many speed offenses,” he said.
He said 70 players will participate in spring drills. Around 140 are scheduled to be on hand when fall practice begins in early August.
Ribaudo said his staff has spent time with Texas Tech coaches and with high school coaches who have run the wide-open offense. He said the Hounds have had an advantage against other teams over the years with their triple-option attack, but it simply doesn’t produce enough points to be competitive.
“We wanted to go to the most explosive and exciting offense that’s out there,” Ribaudo said. “We researched it, and (we found that) it’s 90 miles down the road at Texas Tech.”
The quarterback position, manned for three years by Michael Benton, is up for grabs at this point. Ribaudo said four quarterbacks are currently in camp, and several recruits will join in fall drills.
Benton’s backup, Jeremy Thompson, has been moved to defensive back.
“I think he’ll be an outstanding defensive back, with his athleticism,” Ribaudo said. “And he’s tall (6-foot-3).”
Defensively, the Hounds will be making some adjustments as well.
“I like the stunt packages and being able to get into (pass) coverage,” said Timmell McFalls, a sophomore-to-be who played a backup role for ENMU in 2007. “It’s challenging, but exciting. They (coaches) are asking more of us, so we give it. We want to be a better team.”
McFalls, from Memphis, Texas, said he’s looking forward to the up-tempo offense and isn’t concerned about the offense scoring “too fast.”
“I think everybody likes it,” he said. “I haven’t heard anybody complain about it.”
The Hounds will play seven of their 11 games on the road in 2008, beginning with a trip to NAIA member Southern Nazarene on Aug. 30 at Bethany, Okla.