2011 SMU Preview – Defense
SMU LB JaGared Davis
SMU LB JaGared Davis
Posted Jun 17, 2011

CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - SMU Mustang Defense

SMU Mustangs

Preview 2011 - Defense

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What You Need To Know: Without any attention outside—or even inside—Dallas, coordinator Tom Mason continues to do a fantastic job with the Mustang defense. A switch to a 3-4 alignment in 2009 put another quality athlete on the field, allowing the team to attack with more speed and frequency. While SMU didn't produce nearly as many takeaways as two years ago, it did rank second only to UCF in the conference in total defense and scoring D. Mason retains most of that group, including six of the eight Mustangs who earned at least All-Conference USA honorable mention. Ends Taylor Thompson and Margus Hunt, linebackers Ja'Gared Davis and Taylor Reed, and FS Chris Banjo all believe their careers won't stop on the Hilltop. More than anything else, Mason wants more big plays, like turnovers and sacks, than his kids produced in 2010. If that happens, SMU will have a fighting chance of improving its lackluster efficiency on third downs and in the red zone.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Taylor Reed, 145
Sacks: Jiggered Davis, 9
Interceptions: Richard Crawford, 4

Star of the defense: Junior LB Ja'Gared Davis
Player who has to step up and become a star:Junior CB Keith Robinson
Unsung star on the rise: Junior DE Margus Hunt
Best pro prospect: Senior DE Taylor Thompson
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Thompson, 2) Davis, 3) Junior LB Taylor Reed
Strength of the defense: The defensive line, speed and athleticism, pass defense
Weakness of the defense: Front-line pressure, takeaways, third down stops, red zone defense

Defensive Line

State of the Unit: Just like its counterpart on the other side of the ball, the D-line returns intact, bringing back all three starters and a two-deep dripping with letterwinners. The group played well last season, its second in a 3-4 alignment, fueling a No. 4 finish in Conference USA run defense and sacks.

In 6-6, 287-pound senior Taylor Thompson, the Mustangs have an All-Conference USA first teamer and a future pro. Getting better and better with each passing year, he now has the size and strength of a strongside end to go along with the burst to make plays in the backfield. Somewhat slowed by injuries a year ago, he needs to ramp up his production and impact every game, making just 32 tackles, 5.5 stops for loss, and 4.5 sacks.

At the other end spot will be 6-8, 295-pound junior Margus Hunt , a behemoth from Estonia. He arrived in Dallas to throw the shot and the discus before joining the football program. It's been a good move for both sides. Besides being one of the most prolific kick blockers in America, he moved into the starting lineup in 2010, making 45 stops, 6.5 tackles for loss, and three sacks. He'll be backed up by 6-4, 259-pound senior Kevin Grenier , a three-time letterwinner and spot starter. Showing good push at the point of attack, he came off the bench to make 16 tackles, 4.5 stops for loss, 3.5 sacks, and block three kicks.

At the nose, 6-3, 287-pound senior Marquis Frazier returns for his third season as a starter. The former transfer from Navarro (Tex.) Junior College is quick off the snap, leading all linemen with 51 tackles, 3.5 stops for loss, and 2.5 sacks. His caddy will be Szymon Czerniak, a 6-4, 268-pound senior who started his first two career games in 2010 and finished with 10 tackles.

Watch Out For … Thompson's numbers to match his ability. His ankle bothered him late last year and his shoulder required surgery in the spring. Once he gets back to full-strength, he'll set out to turn the heads of NFL scouts in his final audition as an amateur.
Strength: Determination. Thompson, Frazier, and Hunt are all returning starters, with the size to hold up at the point of attack. All three will fight through blocks in order to make plays, and have the long arms needed to obstruct the vision of the quarterback.
Weakness: Consistent pressure. The Mustangs need to do a much better job of getting into the backfield on a consistent basis. Last year's sack leader was a linebacker, and the team ranked just 88th nationally in tackles for loss. The line has the talent, but needs to match it with actual production this season.
Outlook: SMU is peaking on the D-line, with the best results about to come in 2011. Thompson is going to play on Sundays, and Frazier and Hunt are solid compliments on the inside and outside, respectively. A stout and physical unit, it needs to become more disruptive and get to the quarterback with greater frequency.
Unit Rating: 6


State of the Unit: With two starters, Pete Fleps and Youri Yenga, gone and two cornerstones back on campus, SMU has some rebuilding to do at linebacker. It's a vital position in the 3-4, one that asks its defenders to cover as much ground as possible and make clean tackles in the open field. The premier player from the second level is usually good for at least 130 stops, testament to how busy that guy can be each fall.

Back at weakside is one of the defense's more disruptive players, 6-1, 220-pound junior Ja'Gared Davis . An exceptional athlete, with great closing speed and acceleration, he covers ground like a safety and will deploy your air bags. The Mustangs first option on blitzes, he had 90 tackles and a team-high 16 stops for loss, and nine sacks. Named first team All-Conference USA, he's become a multi-dimensional weapon on defense.

The rock in the middle is 6-0, 230-pound junior Taylor Reed. Following up on an auspicious debut as a Mustang, he racked up a program-best 145 tackles, 4.5 stops for loss, and two sacks in 2010. Packing on more weight in the offseason to improve his modest size, he brings the intensity, instincts, and range to continue to be an ace run defender. Now halfway through his college career, he's taking on more of a leadership role on this side of the ball as well.

The two new regulars in the lineup are expected to be 6-0, 230-pound junior Cameron Rogers at Buck and 6-1, 220-pound junior Victor Jones at strongside. A starter before getting hurt in 2009, he returned as a backup last year, making 15 tackles. A former walk-on, he's beating the odds with a terrific work ethic and a thirst for improvement. Jones hasn't played much over the last two years, but possesses the athletic ability and range that SMU craves in its linebackers. Undersized junior Byron Brown and sophomore Randall Joyner are the two experienced members of the second team. Both contributed off the bench and on special teams to earn letters.

Watch Out For … Jones to provide some of the results that Davis did a year ago. Similarly sized and athletic, he has just enough explosiveness and closing speed to be an effective attacker coming off the edge.
Strength: Range. By design, the Mustang linebackers are fast, decisive, and able to cover large chunks of territory. They can do it all, pinning their ears back to make stops behind the line or dropping back into coverage to defend the intermediate passing.
Weakness: Size. Much like a year ago, the chief concern about this unit is that lacks the size and physicality to hold up at the point of attack. Clearly athletic enough to play the position, the linebackers average only about 6-0 and 225 pounds, making them vulnerable against teams with a rugged, north-south ground game.
Outlook: While there are holes to fill because of graduations, the Mustangs have enough of a foundation to still feel good about their linebackers. Davis and Reed are all-conference timber, and Jones and Rogers have prepared for their time in the lineup. If there's a pressing concern, it's the second unit, which is light on experience and ready-made talent.
Unit Rating: 5.5


State of the Unit: For the second straight year, SMU made progress in pass defense, ranking third in the conference and tying for the fewest number of touchdown passes allowed. For a program that had so many problems in this area in the past, it was a major achievement. Three starters from that edition are back, leaving underrated CB Sterling Moore as the long defection.

Senior FS Chris Banjo will once again be the leader of the defensive backfield. A starter since the middle of his freshman year, he's ultra-active and rarely far from the ball. Like having a fifth linebacker on the field, he has keen instincts and outstanding wrap-up skills in the open field. Among the team leaders as usual, he finished his junior year with 92 tackles, 6.5 stops for loss, two picks, and eight passes defended.

Back at strong safety is 5-11, 191-pound junior Ryan Smith , who learned on the job a year ago. He started a dozen games, soaking up as much knowledge as possible and chipping in 46 tackles and a pair of interceptions. Behind Smith for a second straight year will be 6-1, 206-pound sophomore Jay Scott . A former quarterback in high school, he's still learning as well, trying to maximize all of his physical ability.

The lead cornerback is 5-11, 195-pound senior Richard Crawford , who played well in his debut out of Saddleback (Calif.) Community College. After making a quick ascent up the depth chart, he held well against some of the league's better receivers, making 59 tackles and a team-best four interceptions and dozen passes defended. The newcomer in the lineup is expected to be 5-9, 191-pound junior Keith Robinson . Mostly a special teams player over the last two years, he'll need to step up and prevent his size from becoming a problem against taller receivers. If Robinson has problems, he could become vulnerable to 5-11, 195-pound sophomore Kenneth Acker , a bigger defender who lettered in his first year out of high school.

Watch Out For … Robinson's development. Arguably the most important member of the defense, he needs to give opposing quarterbacks a reason not to target him repeatedly. It will not be easy, especially since Crawford gained somewhat of a reputation for being a thief a year ago.
Strength: Getting physical. Whether it's in run defense or when a receiver is about to pull down a ball, the Mustang defensive backs will make their presence felt. They all play with intensity, lowering their shoulders, wrapping up, and playing bigger than their size. When the other gets near the end zone, the secondary tends to be especially feisty.
Weakness: Picks. Okay, so maintaining its 2009 level of pilfery was asking too much, but SMU really fell off the table in takeaways last fall. The Mustangs had just 10 to rank eighth in Conference USA, a mealy number considering how often the team was thrown upon in 2010.
Outlook: After two successful years in-a-row, the Mustangs' stingy pass defense is liable to become a trend. An aggressive unit that didn't pay the price for taking too many chances, it returns the core of the 2010 edition. A lot will depend on the play of Robinson, who'll undergo a baptism by fire as the greenest member of the starting lineup.
Unit Rating: 5.5

Special Teams

State of the Unit: One of the underrated impacts of the presence of June Jones has been the play of the Mustang special teams, which has been fantastic. Maintaining that high level of play, however, will require a few replacements to step up after do-it-all kicker Matt Szymanski graduated and special teams coach Dennis McKnight took off for the CFL.

The newcomers at placekicker and punter will be redshirt freshman Mike Loftus and junior Matt Stone , respectively. An even-keeled recruit from California, Loftus will compete for both spots, but is currently spending more time as the kicker. Stone punted six times over the course of two games last fall, averaging just over 31 yards.

SMU is looking for more out of a return game that lagged near the bottom of Conference USA in both kickoff returns and punt returns. Senior Richard Crawford , junior Darius Johnson , and sophomores Darryl Fields and Kenneth Acker are all back trying to provide more of a spark.

Watch Out For … the development of Loftus at kicker. He left Anaheim as a highly-regarded specialist, a fundamentally-sound player with a strong leg. A redshirt last season, he used his time to get a little bigger and a lot stronger. Provided he can handle the pressure, he has a chance to be a four-year regular in Dallas.
Strength: Blocks. Over the last two seasons, the Mustangs have an blocked an incredible 16 punts or kicks, more than any other team in America. The main hero has been 6-8, 295-pound junior Margus Hunt , who got his big mitts on 10 of them to become one of the more unique and unlikely weapons of this unit.
Weakness: Covering kickoffs. Even more than the uncertainty in the kicking game, this is an area that's been haunting the Mustangs. In 2009, they ranked 118th nationally and allowed two to be taken all the way back. Last year, they only improved to 108th and permitted another touchdown. From a field position standpoint, the play of the coverage teams is killing the defense.
Outlook: Frank Gansz, Jr. inherits a special teams unit that has potential to go along with an equal number of holes. There's the upside of Loftus and the long arms of Hunt, but the uncertainty at punter and inconsistency in the return game and coverage must be addressed. Gansz has the pedigree and the background to have a positive impact in his debut at a new school.
Unit Rating: 5.5

- 2011 SMU Preview | 2011 SMU Offense
- 2011 SMU Defense | 2011 SMU Depth Chart
- SMU Previews  2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006