Preview 2008 - Offense
2008 CFN SMU Preview |
2008 SMU Offense
2008 SMU Depth
2007 CFN SMU Preview |
What you need
First-year head coach June Jones wants to spread the field with
four or five receivers on every play and air it out with short
and intermediate strikes. His most prized inheritance, QB Justin
Willis, has served his suspension and made his way back to the
team. He doesn’t have a howitzer, but that’s never been a
prerequisite for success for Jones’ pupils. The junior
understands the game well, has a good pocket presence, and
throws a catchable ball, ingredients for a solid season. In this
offense, there’s a need for capable receivers. Lots of them.
Emmanuel Sanders is a great start, but the Mustangs need
quantity along with quality. Sophomore playmaker Aldrick
Robinson had a breakthrough spring and figures to benefit the
most from the change in offense.
Passing: Justin Willis
242-414, 2,944 yds, 25 TD, 18 INT
Rushing: Justin Willis
180 carries, 699 yds, 3 TD
Receiving: Emmanuel Sanders
74 catches, 889 yds, 9 TD
of the offense:
Junior QB Justin Willis
Player who has to step up and become a star: Redshirt
freshman LT Kelvin Beachum
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore WR Aldrick Robinson
Best pro prospect: Junior WR Emmanuel Sanders
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Sanders 2) Willis 3)
Junior C Mitch Enright
Strength of the offense: The passing game
Weakness of the offense: The offensive line, wide
Projected Starter: The SMU family breathed a
collective sigh of relief when junior Justin Willis was
reinstated to the program after being suspended in the spring.
While he still has to reestablish himself and get better
acquainted with the new system, it’ll be tough to dethrone a
two-year starter who threw for 2,944 yards and 25 touchdowns,
while leading the team with 699 yards and three scores on the
ground. Just 6-1 and 210 pounds, he has modest arm strength, but
does a nice job of throwing tight passes and getting the ball in
the hands of the playmakers. In an offense that relies so
heavily on timing and decision making, he gives the Mustangs
their best chance to succeed right away on offense.
Projected Top Reserves: With Willis out of the
picture in the spring, 6-0, 179-pound redshirt freshman Logan
Turner took advantage of the opportunity, getting most of
the first team reps. Although he lacks ideal size and velocity
on his throws, he’s an accurate, heady passer, two keys to being
successful in the run-and-shoot.
Like Willis, 6-2, 205-pound sophomore Zach Rhodes sat out
spring practice for disciplinary reasons. Had he played, he, not
Turner, would have gotten most of the snaps with the first team.
The best athlete among the quarterbacks, he was used some at
wide receiver a year ago and made a bunch of quarterback cameos
when the game was already decided. It is still uncertain whether
he’ll be returning to the program or transferring.
Still in the mix, but a longshot, is 6-0, 186-pound redshirt
freshman Daniel Miller. Another undersized hurler with
little pop in his arm, he’s in danger of plummeting down the
pecking order now that Willis and true freshman Bo Levi
Mitchell are entering the picture.
Watch Out For… more than one quarterback to be
used in the first few weeks of the season. June Jones and
offensive coordinator Dan Morrison are opening up the
competition in August and expecting live games to decide the
eventual winner. Unless Willis pulls away in practice, the
coaches may want to see how the top contenders perform with the
Strength: Willis. Unless someone, like Mitchell,
has a lights out summer, Willis has the best combination of
experience and physical ability on the roster…by far. If gets
his act together, on and off the field, he has a rare
opportunity to post attention-getting numbers under the watchful
eye of Jones.
Weakness: Turnovers. Keen decision making is a key
component for success in this offense. Willis was lacking in
that area a year ago, forcing too many passes and throwing more
interceptions than all but one quarterback in Conference USA.
Outlook: Given time, Jones has proven he can turn
even the most pedestrian passers into statistical giants. Why
should things be any different in Dallas? Ideally, Willis will
grow up and remain a productive player, while Mitchell takes his
first big step toward becoming SMU’s quarterback of the future.
Projected Starters: Now that James Mapps is no
longer a Mustang, the starting job belongs to senior DeMyron
Martin, a physical 6-2, 234-pounder with three letters and a
wealth of experience. In a complimentary role, he ran 106 times
for 458 yards and four touchdowns, adding nine receptions for 64
yards and another score. At his size and strength, he’ll be an
asset between the tackles and in pass protection, but needs to
become more comfortable as a receiver coming out of the
backfield. This will be a different role for Martin, who still
has the mindset of a traditional, grind-it-out feature back.
Projected Top Reserves: In the No. 2 hole is
sophomore Chris Butler, a player the coaching staff is
excited about. A nice blend of power and speed at 5-10 and 210
pounds, he debuted with the Mustangs a year ago, carrying 22
times for 116 yards and three touchdowns. He’ll keep Martin from
getting lazy this summer before replacing him in 2009.
The new staff likes its backs to be big and fast. At 6-4 and 264
pounds, senior Andrew McKinney is halfway there. A
bruising blocker and dynamite special teams performer, he’ll be
like having a sixth lineman on the field when he stays put as a
Watch Out For…the runners to get 25-35 touches a
game, but not in the traditional way. Yes, there’ll be the
occasional handoffs, but the backs are more likely to get
involved on screen passes and dump-offs out of the one-back
Strength: Martin. In a different offense that made
him the focus, he’d have 1,000-yard potential. In this offense,
he’ll be a multi-faceted performer, who can carry, catch, and
keep the quarterback from feeling the heat on blitzes.
Weakness: Receiving skills. This is an issue that
needs to get rectified before the start of the season. Two years
ago, the backs caught just 14 passes. Last year, only 31. To be
effective in this offense, Martin and Butler have to prove
they’ve got reliable hands and the feel for when they’re about
to go from blocker to safety valve in the passing game.
Outlook: Physically, Martin and Butler would be
fine for most programs in Conference USA. However, to be
successful in this offense, the backs need to show off their
cerebral side as well, learning new responsibilities and
adapting to very different roles.
Projected Starters: Gone are the tight end and
fullback, replaced by four-wide receiver sets and a need for far
more depth at the position. The one certainty in the corps is
6-1, 175-pound junior Emmanuel Sanders, who has been the
Mustangs’ best receiver the last two years and enjoyed a
terrific offseason of conditioning. Explosive after the catch
and fluid in his routes, he had a career-best 74 catches for 889
yards and nine touchdowns a year ago. In this offense, he has
If the spring is a good indicator, 5-10, 170-pound sophomore
Aldrick Robinson is going to be the next best thing to
Sanders in the passing game. He really captured the attention of
the new coaches, flashing 4.3 speed and the ability to make
defenders miss in the open field. As a freshman, he caught 10
passes for 166 yards, numbers he’ll surpass before the third
game of the year.
Junior Zach Zimmerman is a steady veteran getting the
best chance of his career for significant playing time. A former
high jumper in high school, he plays even taller than his 6-1,
166-pound frame, often going well above defensive backs to make
a catch. The presumptive starter at Z receiver, he caught eight
balls a year ago for 130 yards.
Rounding out the quartet is sophomore Josh Bryant, the
least accomplished of the likely starters. He sat out 2007 after
transferring from Southern Arkansas, where he was named the Gulf
South Conference co-Newcomer of the Year. At only 5-8 and 176
pounds, he’ll need to prove he can handle the pounding often
endured by the receivers in this offense.
Projected Top Reserves: Somehow, the Mustangs will
have to find a way to get the ball in the hands of 5-9,
169-pound senior Jessie Henderson. One of the most
dynamic players on the roster, he has the speed and the wiggle
that warrant more reps. Mostly a special teams performer to
date, he could be used on short hitches or inside handoffs.
For now, Sanders’ backup at H receiver is 6-0, 172-pound
redshirt freshman Simeon Thomas, one of the young players
who helped himself in the spring. He has good speed, but that
alone won’t be enough to fend off the freshmen arriving on
campus this summer.
Watch Out For… minimal rotation. June Jones
usually likes to find his four best receivers and let them get
the majority of the reps. With sometimes as many as 80 pass
routes to be a run a game, those starters better be in great
shape or they won’t stay in the lineup very long.
Strength: The left side. The majority of passes
this year will be thrown to the side of the field where Sanders
and Robinson are lining up. Both receivers, but especially
Sanders, have the potential grab a ton of passes and postseason
Weakness: Proven talent. After Sanders, the
passing game is putting a lot of faith in receivers with minimal
experience and achievements at this level. If forced to rely on
its depth, the program will have no choice but to lean on many
of the newcomers entering the program.
Outlook: Sanders and Robinson are good places to
start, but the Mustangs don’t quite have enough quality
receivers for this system. They’ll get to that point, probably
before the start of the 2009 season. In the meantime, expect
everyone’s numbers to skyrocket and dropped passes and blown
assignments to be commonplace in the early going.
Projected Starters: The one thing most likely to
derail the Mustang offense this fall will be the play of a
suspect offensive line looking to replace three starters,
including both tackles. The closest thing the unit has to an
anchor is junior C Mitch Enright, a second-year starter
and the glue of the group. While only 6-2 and 275 pounds, he has
the quick feet and intelligence to evolve into an all-conference
player. He excels in pass protection, making him a good fit for
The other returning starter is 6-3, 300-pound senior LG Sean
Lobo, who has been a regular over the last two seasons. The
most physical of the blockers, he needs to improve his mobility
and endurance in order to handle the expected spike in snaps
Over at right guard will be 6-3, 292-pound redshirt freshman
Bryce Tennison, who nudged ahead of classmate Kelly
Turner in the spring. A terrific all-around athlete by
linemen’s standards, he could be special once he gets accustomed
to the offense and the speed of the college game.
Over on the right side, senior Tommy Poynter has the most
experience of the tackles, having earned two letters and cracked
the starting lineup in the past. He’s returning from a broken
leg that limited him to just the first half of last season. A
6-4, 277-pounder, he’s light on his feet, but prone to being
shoved around by more physical opponents.
The responsibility of manning the quarterback’s backside belongs
to 6-3, 283-pound redshirt freshman Kelvin Beachum. While
he has the footwork and athletic ability to be a pillar at some
point in his career, he’s likely to struggle in his first season
playing in an offense that could throw the ball 50 times a game.
Projected Top Reserves: The most intriguing of the
backups is senior LT Vincent Chase, who moved to the line
after his old tight end position became defunct. At his old job,
he played with a nasty streak and was one of the team’s best
blockers, making the switch a natural fit. If not for being just
6-5 and 252 pounds, he’d have a better shot of jumping Beachum.
At left guard, 6-4, 332-pound redshirt freshman Josh LeRibeus
is a massive option for a line that isn’t very big. If he
can improve his endurance and get a better handle of the
offensive assignments, he’ll play a key role in the rotation.
Watch Out For… QB Justin Willis to rely on his
mobility a lot this fall. Even in a system that asks its
quarterbacks to make quick reads and quick drops, this youthful
line is going to struggle all year to keep opposing pass rushers
Strength: The future. The Mustangs will be forced
to use a ton of freshmen, purely out of necessity and a lack of
depth. That’s scary news for this year’s offense, but promising
news for 2009 and beyond, when these kids begin to mature.
Weakness: Talent. Enright is an underrated player,
but when he’s the torch-bearer for a unit, it’s a problem. Even
worse, the Mustangs could have as many as seven freshmen dotting
the two-deep, a major concern for the offense.
Outlook: The play of a very young and
inexperienced offensive line is going to haunt the offense
throughout this first season in the run-and-shoot. There’s no
substitute for live action, and too many starters and backups
have none with the Mustangs. While the situation should improve
as the season develops, SMU is positioned to lead the league in
sacks allowed in 2008.