2007 SMU Preview - Offense

Posted Jun 14, 2007

Preview 2007 SMU Mustang Preview


SMU Mustangs

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007 - Offense

- 2007 SMU Preview | 2007 SMU Defense Preview
- 2007 SMU Depth Chart | 2006 CFN SMU Preview 

What you need to know: In sophomore Justin Willis, SMU has a legitimate franchise quarterback with the physical tools to move an offense and the intangibles to lead a program to victories and eventually bowl games.  He’ll be growing alongside classmate Emmanuel Sanders, who ignited a mediocre receiving corps last year with 46 catches and nine touchdown receptions.  Junior back DeMyron Martin is eyeing the kind of rebound year that’ll refocus his career while giving more balance to the offense.  He’ll have the luxury of running behind a seasoned line that returns four starters.  If, as expected, the Mustangs are playing in shootouts this year, they’ve now got the offensive weapons to keep pace.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Justin Willis
12-270, 2,047 yds, 26 TD, 6 INT
Rushing: DeMyron Martin
92 carries, 369 yds, 0 TD
Receiving: Emmanuel Sanders
46 catches, 605 yds, 9 TD

Star of the offense: Sophomore QB Justin Willis
Player that has to step up and become a star: Junior RB DeMyron Martin
Unsung star on the rise: Junior TE Vincent Chase
Best pro prospect: Martin
Top three all-star candidates: 1) WR Emmanuel Sanders  2) Willis  3) Martin
Strength of the offense: The backfield
Weakness of the offense: Pass blocking


Projected Starter
:  Every up-and-coming program needs a figurehead to rally around, and the Mustangs now have that individual in sophomore Justin Willis.  Despite a slow start to the 2006 season, he erupted in mid-September and went on to have the most prolific season ever for an SMU quarterback, throwing for a school-record 26 touchdown passes, scrambling for 354 yards and three scores and finishing No. 10 nationally in passing efficiency.  While his arm strength is still questionable, Willis is a 6-1, 210-pound package of intangibles that knows how to win, makes great decisions and can frustrate defenses with his crisp passes or shifty legs when the pocket breaks down.  In many ways, he’s on his way to becoming a modern-day Charlie Ward without all the headlines or the NBA dishing skills.   

Projected Top Reserves: For the second straight year, Corey Slater will be second in command behind Willis.  While the junior struggled in two starts last season, that experience will prove invaluable in the event he’s pressed into action again this fall.  At 6-2 and 230 pounds, he actually has the strongest arm of the Mustang passers. 

Redshirt freshman Zack Rhodes is listed third on the depth chart, however, unless there’s an emergency, he’ll see more playing time at wide receiver in an attempt to get his athleticism on the field.                    

Watch Out For… Willis’ development as a team leader.  He was a freshman in 2006, and sometimes it showed when he lost his cool and showed his frustration on the field.  As the new face of this program, he needs to exhibit more composure and leadership in order to take the next step to becoming a complete quarterback.
Strength: Willis.  The sophomore’s ability to make something out of nothing and play at a high level late in tight games are two massive Mustang luxuries that cannot be taught.
Weakness: Downfield passing.  Willis doesn’t have a cannon for an arm, often limiting his ability to get the ball downfield to his outside receivers.  SMU’s 11.48 yards a completion in 2006 ranked it 10th in Conference USA.
Outlook: Provided he gets some help from a rebuilt receiving corps, Willis will build on a sensational debut and take another step toward becoming the biggest thing at the school since the Pony Express.              
Rating: 8

Running Backs

Projected Starter: Junior DeMyron Martin is staring at a crossroads season only two years after a tantalizing finish to his freshman year.  Not only did his production plummet from 854 yards rushing and nine touchdowns to 369 yards and two scores, but the backs behind him gained ground when he was shelved with a foot injury.  Sure, Martin couldn’t help getting hurt, however, there was a general feeling that he entered the season cocky and unfocused.  When he’s right, he’s a tremendous north-south runner who can’t be arm tackled at 6-2 and 230 pounds.  Claiming to have grown and been humbled by last season, a leaner and stronger Martin is in store for a monster rebound now that he has a passing game to keep defenses honest.      

Projected Top Reserves: When Martin missed five games last year, head coach Phil Bennett discovered he has a very capable collection of reserves waiting in the wings.  Sophomore James Mapps came out of nowhere to rush for 321 yards and two scores, filling a void when the Mustangs were without their three top backs and landing on the Conference USA all-freshman squad.  A shifty back with an extra gear, he makes a nice complement to Martin’s power. 

Bennett really likes senior Cedric Dorsey and plans to occasionally use him in a feature role.  A seasoned veteran of 32 games, he’s SMU’s most reliable receiver out of the backfield. 

Mustang coaches quietly believe that redshirt freshman Chris Butler has the potential to be this year’s Mapps.  A nice blend of strength and speed in a 5-10, 210-pound package, he’ll contribute as soon the learning curve flattens.       

Watch Out For… much more use of two-back sets this season.  Bennett likes his backs and wants more than just Martin to get reps, even if it means occasionally splitting one of them out as a slot receiver.
Strength: Martin.  The potential exists for Martin to be a 25 or 30-carry back that wears out defenses and blossoms into the league’s premier runner.  If the off-season is a good indicator, he’s set to exceed that potential in 2007.
Weakness: Pass-catching.  Is there any reason why an offense that relies on short-range throws never incorporates its running backs?  Last season, the group caught a paltry 14 passes, a lost opportunity to get the backs more touches.
Outlook: SMU has rare depth and diversity in the backfield led by Martin, a Mustang on a mission who’ll explode with a breakout 1,000-yard season in 2007.
Rating: 6


Projected Starters
: Any conversation about the SMU receivers begins with sophomore Emmanuel Sanders and ends with plenty of question marks.  The Mustangs have one budding star and a gaping need for more troops since just one of last season’s top six receivers is currently on the roster.  Sanders is an explosive 6-1, 170-pound receiver who debuted last year with 46 catches for 605 yards and nine touchdowns, including one in a school-record six straight games.  There’s no doubt he’ll be Justin Willis’ favorite target, however, now he has to become the main man without the protection seniors Bobby Chase and Ryan Kennedy provided in 2006. 

Senior Zack Sledge has lurked in the shadows for most of his career, catching just 38 passes and a pair of touchdowns, but he’s uniquely positioned to surpass his career totals this fall alone.  A terrific all-around athlete that runs crisp routes and catches everything within reach, he’ll be a nice complement to Sanders on underneath routes. 

Versatile senior Devin Lowery played his first two years at receiver, had 41 tackles and a three-pick game as a cornerback in 2006 and is back on offense to fill a void this year.  No stranger to the offense, he has the speed to turn short passes into long gains from his X receiver position. 

Now that Kennedy has graduated, junior tight end Vincent Chase is ready to fulfill his sizable potential.  A 6-5, 255-pounder that plays with a mean streak, he’s one of the team’s best blockers and is working hard on his flexibility and pass catching in anticipation of an expanded role in 2007.
Projected Top Reserves: Junior Jessie Henderson has been moved from running back to receiver where Mustang coaches hope he can make big plays from the slot.  One of the program’s most dynamic athletes, the offense will invent ways to get the ball in his hands, particularly when it shifts to four-wide sets. 

The program is hoping that the breakout spring of sophomore Zach Zimmerman was a harbinger of things to come in September.  A 6-1 former high school high-jumper, he’s one of the only Mustang receivers that has the size and the bounce to make plays above defensive backs. 

Third-string redshirt freshman quarterback Zach Rhodes will be using his myriad of athletic gifts at receiver this season unless one of the top two passers suffers an injury. 

At 6-4 and 265 pounds, junior Andrew McKinney is a hybrid between a tight end and a fullback who is like having a sixth lineman on the field when he enters the game.

Watch Out For… junior Columbus Givens.  Slated to start after catching 22 catches for 306 yards and four touchdowns a year ago, Givens has been forced to withdraw from school while he recovers from the bacteria that causes meningitis.  If he can kick the illness and pass six credit hours this summer, he’ll be a huge addition to the receivers this fall.
Strength: Sanders.  If a receiver or two steps up to relieve some pressure and attention, Sanders has the quickness and big-play ability to finish his sophomore season as a first-team all-league performer.
Weakness: Size.  Collectively, this is an extremely undersized group that averages about 175 pounds and needs to spend more time in the weight room.  Against physical defensive backs, they’ll struggle to even get off the line of scrimmage.
Outlook: Although Sanders and Chase are on the verge of big seasons, the fate of this group lies with the ability of second-tier players, such as Sledge, Lowery and Zimmerman to step up and make key contributions.
Rating: 5

Offensive Linemen

Projected Starters: This is a veteran group that returns four starters and goes two-deep without using freshmen, but it has to get to the next level in 2007 after underachieving a year ago.  The big news this off-season was the move of steady senior Ben Poynter to left tackle, opening the door for sophomore Mitch Enright to play center and essentially solidifying two positions.  Now in his fourth year as a starter, Poynter’s an all-league selection and the line’s most consistent blocker.  A former walk-on at the school, he’s a heady player with a terrific work ethic. 

Enright is coming off an outstanding spring session which validated the decision to move Poynter over to tackle.  He’s only 6-2 and 275 pounds, but has the quickness and smarts to handle the position and prepped at national powerhouse Southlake Carroll (Tex.) High School which prepared him well for this spotlight promotion.  

Junior Sean Lobo entered the starting lineup at left guard last October and never left.  While he does a nice job pass blocking, he needs to get more assertive and physical when SMU keeps it on the ground.                      

Senior right guard Caleb Peveto shared the Charles H. Trigg Blocking Award with Poynter in 2006.  Entering his third season as a starter, he’s an aggressive 290-pound blocker with the good feet needed to pull on sweeps and other running plays. 

At right tackle will be Kenard Burley, a 6-5 senior who was named honorable mention all-Conference USA in his first season as a starter.  He has the long arms and the untapped potential to blossom into a terrific pass protector in his final year on The Hilltop. 

Projected Top Reserves: If Lobo doesn’t improve at opening holes, his job becomes vulnerable to senior Tommy Poynter, Ben’s cousin, who started the first five games of the 2006 season.  While he lost and never regained his job for reason, he picked up enough experience in 2006 to be a valuable reserve. 

The first tackles off the bench will be sophomore Chase Smith on the left side and senior Lucky DeLay on the right.  Smith has a lofty upside at 6-4 and 295 pounds and will spend this fall doing an apprenticeship under Poynter before succeeding him in 2008.  A former defensive lineman, DeLay is undersized and limited at 265 pounds, relying on his experience and motor to ward off defensive linemen.          

Watch Out For… Burley. While Poynter and Peveto get more attention, Burley has quietly positioned himself for a shot to audition in front of NFL scouts in 2008.  He’s got a next level body and has developed exponentially since winning a job before the 2006 season.
Strength: The tackles.  Poynter and Burley are all-conference types with the skills to wall off edge rushers and Smith is an up-and-coming reserve that played well in eight games last year.
Weakness: Execution.  Yeah, there’s talent and experience on this group, but too often in the past it made mental mistakes or failed to protect the quarterback.  That has to be resolved if the Mustangs are to make their long-awaited return to the post-season.
Outlook: This is easily Phil Bennett’s best line since he arrived five years ago.  Now it has to go out and prove it after finishing 100th nationally in sacks allowed and paving the way for just 125 yards a game on the ground.
Rating: 5.5


Related Stories
2007 SMU Preview - Defense
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jun 14, 2007
2007 SMU Preview - Depth Chart
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jun 14, 2007
2007 SMU Preview
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jun 14, 2007

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