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2007 SMU Preview - Defense

CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Jun 14, 2007


Preview 2007 SMU Mustang Defense Preview

 

SMU Mustangs

Preview 2007 - Defense


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

What you need to know: The Mustangs will spend the better part of the year trying to replace three starters from the 2006 defensive line, including standouts Justin Rogers and Adrian Haywood.  If they can solve that complex riddle, look out.  The back seven, led by Butkus Award candidate Reggie Carrington, is very fast and very capable of spurring an improvement from last year’s middling results.  The more likely scenario has the line struggling to create a consistent push and the secondary getting burned by opposing hurlers with way too much time to find their targets.       

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Reggie Carrington, 80
Sacks: Cory Muse, 7
Interceptions: Tony Hawkins, 2

Star of the defense: Senior LB Reggie Carrington
Player that has to step up and become a star: Sophomore CB Bryan McCann
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore SS Bryce Hudman
Best pro prospect: Carrington
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Carrington 2) Senior DE Cory Muse 3) Senior LB Wilton McCray
Strength of the defense: The linebackers
Weakness of the defense: The front four

Defensive Line

Projected Starters
: After losing three starters, including studs Justin Rogers and Adrian Haywood, there’s no escaping the fact that SMU is going to be very vulnerable up front in 2007.  The Mustangs, however, can point to the return of senior defensive end Cory Muse as the lone silver lining during this rebuilding year.  An all-conference second teamer in 2006, he parlayed a great first step and relentless motor into 10.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks, despite missing two games and playing most of the year on a gimpy knee.  As long as he doesn’t see constant double teams, double-digit sacks are well within reach. 

With the crowd Muse will attract, Patrick Handy could be in store for a big junior season.  No stranger to the starting lineup, he played in 12 games in 2006, picking up 11 tackles, two tackles for loss and a sack.  After playing a minor role the last two years, it’s incumbent upon Handy to rise up and help ease the loss of Rogers. 

On the interior, where there’ll be four freshmen on the three-deep, SMU is in a heap of trouble.  The only player with any relevant college experience is senior Charlie Berry who’s played in 30 career games, but redshirted in 2007 to focus on the books.  His experience and toughness inside has to rub off on some of the rookies if the Mustangs are going to be competitive in run defense. 

For now, sophomore Chris Parham will be at the nose, but he’s going to get plenty of competition leading up to the start of the season.  While he has the advantage of having played in three games last year and is in better shape, at 6-2 and 280 pounds, he’s hardly the kind of lineman that’ll clog the middle or tie up more than one blocker.        

Projected Top Reserves: Although there’ll be a lot of bodies being run in and out of the rotation this year, redshirt freshman Zac Thomas has the most promising future at tackle.  Still light for the position at 6-4 and 260 pounds, he has room to add weight and will compensate for the time being with his quickness and strength. 

The coaching staff is excited about the potential of redshirt freshman end Justin Smart, a 6-4, 225-pound converted linebacker with the explosiveness to be an immediate factor as a situational pass rusher. 

Junior end Kyle Griffin has also had a strong off-season and is pushing for additional playing time in the rotation.  He’s played in 12 career games, primarily on special teams and late in one-sided games.

Watch Out For… how well Muse plays without Rogers and Haywood on the same line.  There’s no doubt he’s a fine defender, but his path to the quarterback will have a few more hurdles in 2007 without the all-star pair occupying so many blockers.
Strength: The ends.  Muse is very close to a given when he’s healthy and Handy and Smart have the burst on the outside to be effective in their first season with an expanded role.
Weakness: Interior depth.  Combined, the tackles have four career starts, no players over 285 pounds and zero blue-chip recruits among them.  Unless a few of the freshmen emerge unexpectedly, it’s going to be a long and difficult year for the run defense.
Outlook: With the speed and athleticism of Muse, Handy and Smart, the Mustangs will manufacture a decent pass rush, however, they’ll be soft in the middle and nowhere near as stingy against the run as last season.
Rating: 5


Linebackers

Projected Starters: If there’s one defensive unit the Mustangs feel really good about entering the 2007 season it’s at linebacker where three starters and a couple of key backups return.  The headliner of a small, speedy group that makes plays all over the field is senior Reggie Carrington in the middle.  At 6-2 and 240 pounds, he’s a little out of place on this unit, yet has outstanding range and plays with keen instincts.  In his first season as a starter, he had 80 tackles, ten tackles for loss, four sacks and four passes broken passes, earning all-Conference USA second-team honors.  With the foundation set, Carrington is ready to become the league’s most complete linebacker. 

On the outside, junior Tony Hawkins and senior Wilton McCray are similar players that are built like safeties and cover ground with the quickness of a corner.  A former wide receiver, Hawkins moved to strongside linebacker before last season and responded with 53 tackles, six tackles for loss and a couple of interceptions.  Beginning his fourth season as a starter, McCray is a sure-tackler coming off a 70-tackle season that ended with honorable mention all-Conference USA recognition.     

Projected Top Reserves: Junior Will Bonilla is a versatile 5-11, 205-pound linebacker that can play either outside position.  After doing most of his work on special teams the last two years, he’ll be asked to play a bigger role on the defense in 2007. 

Playing behind Carrington isn’t good for a player’s career, however, senior Damon Hurst has the speed and junior-college experience to step into the lineup and contribute if needed.            

Watch Out For… Carrington.  A good player last year, he’s about to evolve into the emotional and physical leader of this defense.
Strength: Speed.  By design, this is a small, cat-quick unit that supports well in run defense and is especially good at dropping back in pass coverage and becoming the equivalent of an extra defensive back.
Weakness: Size.  Yes, the Mustangs don’t recruit big lumbering linebackers, but against physical lines that can get to the second level, this group that averages about 210 pounds will struggle to disengage and fight through blocks.

Outlook: This is easily the best unit of the defense and maybe the second best collection of talent on the entire team.  If SMU is going to offset its losses up front in 2007, the linebackers will have to kick it up another notch this fall.
Rating: 6.5


Defensive Backs

Projected Starters: Although the departure of leading tackler safety Joe Sturdivant leaves a large void in the secondary, the Mustangs return three starters and enough talent to hope for a good year.  The cornerbacks return three players with starting experience, led by likely first-teamers, sophomore Bryan McCann and senior Jonathan Lindley.  After starting three games as a true freshman last November, McCann is on his way to becoming the star of this unit as early as sometime this year.  A bright kid with terrific speed and ball skills, he’s one season of game experience away from being an impact defender in Dallas. 

Lindley played well in his first season as a starter in 2006, collecting 38 tackles and six pass breakups.  He has the size to press his man at the line of scrimmage and the speed to get back in coverage if a receiver gets behind.  A confident, emotional player, he needs to limit the long gainers this season. 

Sophomore strong safety Bryce Hudman has the physical gifts to be better than Sturdivant in the second half of his career.  One of the team’s fastest players at 6-2 and 200 pounds, he plays very loose, yet isn’t averse to obliterating opposing receivers.  Hudman is one of those examples of how much better the talent pool has gotten at SMU in the last few years. 

Filling out the secondary will be junior free safety Rock Dennis, a transfer from Garden City (Kan.) Community College.  While only 5-9 and 175 pounds, he has corner speed and isn’t afraid to lower his shoulder and fill a lane in run defense.             

Projected Top Reserves: Senior Brandon Jones gives the Mustangs a third corner with starting experience, a real luxury that few programs enjoy.  A ten-game starter with 52 tackles and five passes broken up in 2005, he sat out last year due to poor grades. 

Jones’ return allowed Devin Lowery to move to wide receiver and junior David Haynes to shift over to free safety where he’ll compete for time with Dennis.  An especially good athlete, Haynes played in all 12 games in 2006, primarily on special teams.        

Watch Out For… incoming freshman safety De’Von Bailey.  One of the top recruits from Oklahoma last year, Bailey was a major acquisition for the Mustangs.  He had offers from more than half of the Big 12 teams, largely because of his 4.4 speed and ball skills in a 6-2, 200-pound package.
Strength: The corners.  McCann and Lindley both have the potential to be lockdown defensive backs and Jones is a very solid option when the defense switches to a nickel package.
Weakness: Consistency.  There’s obvious upside within the secondary, however, last year there were too many breakdowns, broken coverages and big plays against some of Conference USA’s better passers.
Outlook: Provided opposing quarterbacks don’t have ten seconds to scan the field for open receivers, the secondary will make strides throughout the year with McCann and Hudman moving closer to being all-league type players.
Rating: 5.5

Special Teams

Projected Starters: Junior Thomas Morstead punts and kicks for the Mustangs, doing both rather well.  In 2006 he used a 43.8 average, tops for an SMU punter since Craig James averaged more than 44 yards in 1982, to earn a spot on the all-Conference USA third team.  As a kicker, he was 13-of-18 on field goals and led the team in scoring with 73 points.  Not your typical one-dimensional kicker, Morstead is 6-5 with an explosive leg and above average athleticism. 

Junior kick returner Jessie Henderson is a 5-9, 170-pound game-breaker who was leading the nation at just under 37 yards a clip before being lost for the season in the seventh.  After two years, he’s proven to be one of the most dangerous return men in the country and an All-America candidate.  After struggling on punt returns last year, the Mustangs are looking for a spark in a number of different directions, including sophomore receiver Emmanuel Sanders and sophomore cornerback Bryan McCann.             

Projected Top Reserves: Sophomore Kellis Cunningham is SMU’s No. 2 kicker, but for now, is most valuable handling kickoffs.  Flashing a strong leg, he averaged 61.4 yards a kickoff and had 16 touchbacks on the season.  Junior punter Andrew Galloway is on the roster as an insurance policy in the event that something happens to Morstead.  A top scholar-athlete, he hasn’t played during the last two seasons.

Watch Out For… a re-emergence from Henderson.  Henderson’s a little off the radar after missing the second half of last season, but he’ll be dynamite again for SMU, returning at least one kick for a touchdown for the third year in-a-row.
Strength: Morstead the punter.  SMU led Conference USA in net punting last season because Morstead averaged almost 44 yards a boot and routinely hung the ball in the air long enough for his coverage team to get downfield.
Weakness: Long-range kicking.  Morstead has nice pop in his leg, connecting from 50 yards last year, but was just 3-of-7 outside 40 yards and needs to tighten his consistency on deeper kicks.
Outlook: Between Morstead’s dual-threat potential and the big-play ability of Henderson in the return game, SMU is on the verge of having the league’s top special teams unit.
Rating: 7.5

 

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2007 SMU Preview - Offense
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jun 14, 2007
2007 SMU Preview - Depth Chart
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2007 SMU Preview
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