UNM football wraps up spring practice. Here's what we learned.

Apr. 27—Spring practice can feel short. Or it can feel long. Maybe it depends on how long you've done it. Or who you spend it with.

"I was actually just telling one of the coaches yesterday: It feels like this spring just started," New Mexico linebacker Milhalis Santorineos said on Saturday afternoon. "It also just feels like we've been with this staff forever."

Maybe it depends on your role.

"Feels like it's been three years," head coach Bronco Mendenhall said with a smile.

Whether it felt long or short, UNM wrapped its first spring session under Mendenhall on Saturday with the sense that progress, however incremental, had been made over 15 practices.

"Our team has come a long way," Mendenhall said. "And there's different parts of the team, different position groups — not everyone's the same ... So there's variability in terms of where each part of it is. But what I can say is the willingness and direction and optimism is there."

Three final takeaways:

1. UNM got the volume it needed, consistency is yet to come

In 2016, Mendenhall inherited a broken culture at Virginia. Players didn't make eye contact when he first met with the team. Nor was there a burning desire to play football, at least from what Mendenhall saw. The cultural overhaul that occurred then — marked by an overwhelming emphasis on "earned, not given" — is in swing at UNM now.

There was a lesson to be learned from that period, though. Mendenhall felt he and his staff spent so much time trying to revamp the culture that the on-field product suffered, the Cavaliers limping to a brutal 2-10 finish in that first season. In Mendenhall's eyes, year one at UNM is more similar to year two at Virginia, with a stated emphasis on playing football "every second we can."

"But not at the expense of the foundational elements that need to be built," he added. "So we just learned — I've learned — over time to do a better job of doing both at the same time."

This spring, when real, live football could be played, UNM did just that. The state of the roster (more on that later) played a role in what the Lobos could or couldn't do this spring. But if nothing else, there's a sample size to work off of until players return in June.

"That's really helping us drive the personnel choices we're going to make," he said. "But it's not polished, it's not finished, it's not consistent. I used that word after our spring scrimmage, and that really is trying to match the abilities to the schemes with the right chemistry and the right collection of players (at) any one time."

In terms of the on-field product, maybe it's fitting the spring game could be viewed as a microcosm of UNM's first 15 practices under Mendenhall. If there was a good stretch from the offense, there was an accompanying lull. If the defense made plays up front, they gave them up on the back end.

"The consistency led to some of the wildness of some of the giant plays or mistakes either way — quarterback sacked or balls going over defense's heads or anything in between," he said. "So lots of really good things in between, which is kind of what I see, but the volatility on either end that comes with kind of the newness and inconsistency of where we are."

2. There's (some) clarity on the O-line

Five weeks ago, the assumption was that quarterback Devon Dampier would be UNM's leader in the clubhouse this spring. Over the course of two practices, that assumption became reality, with Dampier dominating reps under center.

Who was blocking for him, though? Different story, especially with UNM losing the entirety of last season's starting offensive line to the transfer portal and graduation.

But with spring in the books, consider the group of Wallace Unamba, Baraka Beckett, Jawaun Singletary, Richard Pearce and Mc- Kenzie Agnello the starting offensive line until said otherwise. And with August looming — another chance for what Singletary called "musical chairs" on the depth chart — that means UNM is breaking spring practice with an all-transfer offensive line.

"None of us are young," said Singletary, a redshirt senior transfer center from Grambling State. "We all pretty much like juniors, so we understand the game, understand how to communicate. And that was kind of our biggest emphasis coming on to start — like, communication and how to learn each other and learn tendencies and what we prefer and what we don't prefer.

"So I think we kind of gelled pretty quickly, pretty fast."

3. The next month will be critical

At the start of spring practice, Mendenhall said he felt UNM had enough depth to start a program. Having 83 scholarship players to work with on day one wasn't unusual, but it felt like a relative "luxury" compared to prior seasons and situations.

Predictably, things changed.

"Once expectations continue to climb, there have been choices in, choices out of our program, to where it felt more like a normal spring," he said, "where at the end you're kinda gauging, 'how many plays can we go today'? with the numbers that we have. And there's usually a few positions that dictate that. So this feels normal to me — it doesn't feel dire, and it doesn't feel like we have (a) surplus.

"It feels normal, which is just enough with work to do."

That was perhaps Mendenhall's most reiterated point Saturday, something he's hit on earlier in the spring — finishing the roster is "priority number one." He declined to say how many scholarships UNM has open at the moment but offered it's "enough to make a significant difference."

Which tracks. Nearly 50 players on last season's roster won't be with UNM heading into the summer, with around 20 leaving right before spring practice or throughout. The emphasis for now, Mendenhall said, will be on utilizing the portal to fill some of those spots.

After that? The focus shifts to graduating junior college players and high school prospects who may have "surprisingly" been overlooked.

"They can come from any one of those three spots," he added. "We have specific needs, have specific filters and exact identities that we're looking for. So, this isn't just a random take from whomever, this is a targeted approach: the specific positions, body types and skill sets that we need."

Going off known portal offers, UNM is angling to add more players on defense. Ryan Cook, a walk-on from La Cueva High School, is taking reps with the quarterbacks right now "but that doesn't mean he's a quarterback," Mendenhall clarified. Could UNM be in the market for another one?

Or a fourth running back to work with Sanders, Jacobs and Henry? More secondary help? Another receiver?

Regardless of how it shakes out, don't bank on a break anytime soon.

"We just won't have one," Mendenhall said. "July, there'll be a little bit. But in most times that you take over a program or you reconstruct or you move a program along, about year three is when you can actually maybe take a break.

"So we'll talk then," he laughed.