New Mexico State position preview: Aggies seek solid rotation of interior DL

·5 min read
Oklahoma quarterback Dillon Gabriel (8) carries past Noah Arinze (42) during the school's NCAA college spring football game, Saturday, April 23, 2022, in Norman, Okla. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
Oklahoma quarterback Dillon Gabriel (8) carries past Noah Arinze (42) during the school's NCAA college spring football game, Saturday, April 23, 2022, in Norman, Okla. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

LAS CRUCES - The fact that Chuka Ndulue played defensive lineman at Oklahoma wasn't entirely the reason Noah Arinze transferred to New Mexico State to be coached by Ndulue.

But it certainly doesn't hurt.

"He (Ndulue) played defensive end at Oklahoma and played in the NFL for a couple years," NM State redshirt junior Justin Segura said. "I feel that I have that bond as a young adult with someone closer to my age."

But just because Arinze, a 6-foot-6, 260-pound former three-star recruit from St. Louis is on the New Mexico State campus, doesn't mean he will play a large role for the Aggies in the fall. That will be decided in fall camp.

"I expect him to go to class and learn what he needs to do whether or not he gets on the field," Ndulue said. "I know people are excited that he's in town, but can you perform on the field or not?

"Tyriece Thomas is a walk-on and I see them as on the same level and am trying to find whoever is the best three or four players for our rotation."

Ndulue coaches the three-technique and the nose guard in the Aggies' 4-2-5 scheme. All players are interchangeable between the two spots that will be the first line of defense for a defensive unit that allowed 40 points per game last season.

"They encourage each other and put in the work every day. I think it's a good group of guys if they buy in, which they are," Ndulue said. "It's technique and fundamentals and running to the ball and playing with a lower pad level and essentially ask them to trust and and listen, and they have done that."

The New Mexico State Aggies football team vs the Dixie State Trailblazers at Sun Bowl Stadium, Sunday, March 7, 2021, in El Paso, Texas. Photo by Ivan Pierre Aguirre
The New Mexico State Aggies football team vs the Dixie State Trailblazers at Sun Bowl Stadium, Sunday, March 7, 2021, in El Paso, Texas. Photo by Ivan Pierre Aguirre

Lama Lavea and Murray State transfer Izaiah Reed stood out at nose guard. Lavea made an impact last year in his first year as a starter with nine tackles. Reed is listed as a 6-1, 295-pound junior.

"He (Reed) did what we asked him to do, practiced well and is a good strong kid," Ndulue said. "I'm excited to see him in fall camp."

Returner Marcus Buckley missed most of last season due to injury, but could start next to Lavea at the three-technique, where Thomas, a 6-2, 245-pound sophomore also stood out during spring, along with Segura before he was injured late in spring practice.

Segura, a Phoenix native, had 21 tackles last season as a redshirt sophomore. He is down to 270 pounds from 285 pounds.

"The difference between practice and games was huge last year getting experience and helping me improve a lot more," Segura said.

"It's going to be very competitive. There are always new guys coming in and your spot is never secured. That's what I learned."

The Aggies' defensive strength will be the outside and inside linebackers, but the interior defensive linemen will also need to be athletic enough to line up in three technique, to five technique and directly over the offensive tackle.

"Compared to last year, I believe our defense is more straight forward," Segura said. "There is not a lot of slanting or stunts, just trying to get off the ball and cause havoc."

Devin Bell played in seven games last season as a transfer from Independence Community College and Garrett Bishop also played well throughout spring practice.

Arinze and freshmen Sterling Webb are young players who are wild cards, particularily Arinze, who at 6-6 is the longest defensive player on the Aggies roster and has four years of eligibility remaining.

"I recruited (Arinze) out of high school before he blew up and when kids get the right attention like that, you kind of shift your mindset somewhere else," Ndulue said. "I reached out to him when he went to the transfer portal and talked to him and his family. He remembered that I was one of the earlier coaches that he talked to, and I also went to Oklahoma. Once he came on a visit, he fell in love with the place."

Both Arinze, and Webb, are from Missouri, and recruited by Ndulue. Webb was a 6-3, 260-pound two-star recruit who signed in February.

For freshmen, it comes down to learning the playbook and what Ndulue and defensive coordinator Nate Dreiling ask from the interior linemen, but Ndulue wants to rotate at least four players, but that the entire room will get snaps at some point this season.

"They did what we asked (in spring practice) and they were productive," Ndulue said. "It's about getting them in line with the techniques for the season and how our defense is being ran. They have to understand what kind of blocks they are getting and our scheme tries to recreate the line of scrimmage."

Who is the best defensive lineman in NM State history?

In addition to outlining the Aggies roster for 2022, we will take a look back as well to identify the top players in the history of the NM State football team.

Joe Campbell holds New Mexico State's record for career quarterback sacks with 26 from 1984-87, and sacks in a single season with 19 in 1986. Campbell was drafted in the fourth round (91st overall) by the San Diego Chargers, in 1988.

This article originally appeared on Las Cruces Sun-News: New Mexico State position preview: Defensive line