2008 SMU Preview - Offense
SMU WR Emmanuel Sanders
SMU WR Emmanuel Sanders
Posted May 20, 2008

CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - SMU Mustang Offense

SMU Mustangs

Preview 2
008 - Offense

- 2008 CFN SMU Preview | 2008 SMU Offense
- 2008 SMU Defense | 2008 SMU Depth Chart
2007 CFN SMU Preview
| 2006 CFN SMU Preview

What you need to know: 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.

Returning Leaders
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

Star 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 receiver depth


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 lights on.
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.
Rating: 6.5

Running Backs

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 pass protector.

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 set.
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.
Rating: 5.5


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 100-catch potential.

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 honors.
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.
Rating: 5.5

Offensive Line

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 this offense.

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 this season.

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 in check.
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.
Rating: 4.5