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Four vying for tackle spot

Even though he started all 11 games at left offensive tackle last fall for the Eastern New Mexico University football team, T.J. Cobb knew his job would be up for grabs this spring.

He says he was ready for it.

“At the end of the season, I expected it because I knew (his competitors) were all coming back,” the 6-foot-5, 255-pound senior-to-be said Friday as the team made final preparations for today’s 2 p.m. Silver-and-Green intrasquad game at Greyhound Stadium. “All four guys can play, and I knew I had a tough battle going in there.”

Cobb’s challengers include classmates Aaron Payne and Chris Valdez, plus sophomore Marcus Smith, in perhaps the most competitive position battle this spring.

ENMU offensive coordinator Mike Howard said Payne, who challenged for the spot last year but was slowed by a knee injury early in the season, may have the inside track.

“Aaron is just a little bit ahead going into the spring game,” Howard said. “The other three just keep swinging back and forth.”

The comforting thought for Cobb — and the Hounds — is that there’s depth at the position. The hard part for him is simply trying to keep your spot.

“I’ve always tried my best,” said Cobb, who transferred to Eastern last year from Ranger (Texas) College. “But now I know I’ve got to try even harder because people are battling for my position.

“In the (spring) scrimmages, my grades (from the coaches) have been pretty good. Actually, all of us are right there.”

Payne, a fifth-year senior from Roswell Goddard, is enjoying the competition.

“It’s pretty close so far,” he said. “Each of us has gone up and down during the spring, but it’s good competition. I think each guy is capable of playing.”

Valdez, a backup for ENMU in 2002 after transferring from New Mexico State, practiced with the team last year but wasn’t on the active roster due to an off-the-field issue.

“It was hard just having to watch everybody,” said Valdez, a 6-4, 275-pound graduate of Las Cruces Mayfield. “I just want to go out this year with a bang. Us three (seniors) are like two, three or four percent apart (in grading). Every day coach Howard says, ‘You guys are so close.’”

Howard said today’s scrimmage won’t have much impact on the pecking order, and projected that Payne would probably enter two-a-days in August as the starter.

One of the four will probably emerge as the backup to starting right tackle Daniel Lujan, Howard added. The differences in the positions are subtle.

“The main thing is technique-wise,” he said. “On the left side you have your left hand down (in the three-point stance); on the right side, you have your right hand down. It really isn’t a knowledge issue.”

Today’s intrasquad game will be played under game conditions, with a Lone Star Conference crew from Lubbock working the contest.