2007 SMU Preview - Defense
SMU Mustang Defense Preview
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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.
Cory Muse, 7
Interceptions: Tony Hawkins, 2
Star of the
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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