2014 SMU Preview: What You Need To Know
SMU WR Darius Joseph
SMU WR Darius Joseph
Posted Jun 2, 2014

Preview 2014 - What You Need To Know About SMU (Getty Images)

2014 SMU Preview

What You Need To Know...

- 2014 SMU Preview 
2014 Depth Chart & Unit Rankings To Come This Summer

What You Need To Know About The Offense: The Run N' Shoot isn't what it used to be. Since June Jones arrived five years ago, SMU has averaged well below 30 points a game, a far cry from expectations. And progress has been surprisingly slow and painful in Dallas. The Mustangs go back to the drawing board with young Neal Burcham at the controls of the pass-happy offense. He subbed for then-injured Garrett Gilbert last November, performing erratically. Burcham's development will be propped up by an experienced collection of receivers headed by junior Darius Joseph. And some much-needed balance is expected from emerging RB Kevin Pope, who was second on the team in tackles while playing linebacker in 2013. Burcham ought to be more concerned by a young front wall that yielded 37 sacks a season ago. The staff is holding out hope that returning letterwinners Chauncey Briggs, Taylor Lasecki and Kris Weeks can spearhead a cleaner pocket and more room for Pope to roam.

What You Need To Know About The Defense: It'll be no secret how to exploit SMU this fall—drop back and try to take the top off the D. The Mustangs are talented in the front seven, from ends Beau Barnes and Zach Wood to linebackers Stephon Sanders and Jonathan Yenga. But the pass defense looks like a nagging problem that might not be rectified for at least another year. The secondary will be without three starters from a defensive backfield that ranked 115th nationally in pass defense in 2013. And CB Kenneth Acker, in particular, leaves an enormous hole on the last line of the defense. Coming out of spring, the two-deep consisted of senior FS Hayden Greenbauer and seven other underclassmen, including freshmen J'Marcus Rhodes, Darrion Richardson and A.J. Justice. SMU's best defense in 2014 will be to win at the line of scrimmage, because quarterbacks with time to throw will likely pick apart the untested and inexperienced back four.

Players You Need To Know

1. LB Stephon Sanders, Sr.
In his third season as a starter, Sanders took a quantum leap in his development as an all-around linebacker on the Hilltop. He was third on the team with 86 tackles, adding a program-high 13.5 stops for loss, 3.5 sacks, a pick and two forced fumbles. Despite possessing next-level size and pop on the outside, 6-3 and 250 pounds, he possesses the range to be effective on all three downs. Sanders was egregiously left off the All-AAC Team in 2013, something he's capable of rectifying this season.

2. WR Darius Joseph, Jr.
Joseph was one of two Mustangs to reach the century mark in receptions, making 103 catches for 808 yards and five touchdowns. He's a slippery receiver out of the slot, sitting down in the soft spots of the defense to serve as an ideal safety valve for the quarterback. The 6-0, 195-pound Joseph must prove this season that he can keep growing as a receiver, despite the graduation of QB Garrett Gilbert. Joseph was tough to contain when Gilbert was behind center, but his production disappeared after the starting quarterback was injured late in the season.

3. DE Beau Barnes, Jr.
SMU was hungry for new D-linemen in 2013 after losing all three starters, including Margus Hunt, to graduation. Barnes did his part to pick up some of the slack last year. In his most extensive action with the program, he notched 45 tackles, 13 stops for minus yards, five sacks and three passes defended. At 6-5 and 255 pounds, Barnes has long arms and a frame that can handle more weight. If he can improve upon his breakout junior year, pro scouts will begin showing additional interest in the fall.

4. LB Jonathan Yenga, Jr.
Yenga is one of the program's rising young stars on defense. He turned heads in his first season as a starter with 49 tackles, 11 stops behind the line and a Mustang-high six sacks. He's already proven to be versatile by excelling on the inside and the outside. Yenga is an explosive 6-2, 215-pound athlete, with the closing speed and range to attack the pocket as effectively as he drops back to cover tight ends and wide receivers. He could craft an all-league resume as early as this season.

5. RB Kevin Pope, Sr.
SMU's renaissance man has been granted one final year of eligibility. He'll use it to showcase his versatility. Pope not only played linebacker in 2013, but he was second on the team with 91 tackles to go along with 10 stops for loss, three sacks and four pass breakups. This fall, he'll be barreling out of the backfield, running downhill to complement the Mustang passing game. Unlike recent power backs on the Hilltop, the 5-10, 225-pound Pope possesses the burst through the hole to be much more than just a short-yardage thumper. He's talented enough to bring a new dimension to the offense.

6. C Taylor Lasecki, Soph.
Lasecki is back to anchor the SMU line from the pivot. He's started 25 consecutive games to capture the attention of the Rimington Trophy Watch List creators for a second straight year. The durable 6-3, 296-pounder was a key recruit from the 2011 class, giving the Mustangs a Big 12-caliber blocker in the trenches. Lasecki operates with ideal leverage and a nasty streak that helps create daylight up the middle for the offense's burrowing big backs.

7. WR Der'rikk Thompson, Sr.
Among returning receivers, only Darius Joseph was more productive in 2013 than Thompson, who caught 32 passes for 459 yards and two touchdowns in nine games. The 5-11, 190-pounder has one season left to get his output to match his blazing speed. Thompson is a burner at "X" receiver, but he isn't typically the first target of the quarterbacks. If the dynamic is going to change, the veteran receiver must play with more consistency this fall.

8. QB Neal Burcham, Soph.
The quarterback in June Jones' Run N' Shoot is always going be a high-profile, numbers-compiling individual. That gunslinger this season figures to be Burcham, who started a pair of games when Garrett Gilbert was injured last season. The backup was expectedly erratic, completing 64-of-109 passes for 556 yards, two touchdowns and four interceptions. However, Burcham has a live arm and chance to light up American defenses if he fine-tunes his throwing and decision-making before the opener.

9. S Hayden Greenbauer, Sr.
Injuries gave Greenbauer a shot to start in 2012. An injury also shut him down in 2013, opening the door for other Mustangs. Greenbauer tore his ACL midway through the season, but the team is hoping to have him back at full strength this year. He's a student of the game, rarely out of position in run defense or pass defense. The 6-0, 205-pounder was well on his way to a breakout campaign with 40 tackles and three passes defended, when he suffered his season-ending injury.

10. DE Zach Wood, Jr.
Wood played and started all 12 games for the Mustangs to earn his first letter. The 6-3, 258-pounder, who had offers from Minnesota and Virginia coming out of high school, began showing signs of approaching his potential on the Hilltop. He was fifth on the team with 49 tackles, including 25 solos, six stops for loss and two forced fumbles. While Wood won't be Beau Barnes as a pass rusher, he has the size and strength to be an effective run-stopper up front.

11. RB Prescott Line, Soph.
Line is angling for the starting job, a position his brother, Zach, handled ably from 2009-2012. The younger sibling started eight games as a rookie, including the final five, to lead the team with 332 rushing yards and three scores on 90 carries. At 6-0 and 233 pounds, Line is a physical between-the-tackles runner, who can be unstoppable in short yardage. He'll need to step up his game to hold off the challenge this summer of true freshman Daniel Gresham, the nation's top-rated fullback of 2014.

- 2014 SMU Preview