Preview 2007 - Offense
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What you need
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.