Preview 2008 -
2008 CFN SMU Preview |
2008 SMU Offense
2008 SMU Depth
2007 CFN SMU Preview |
need to know:
June Jones has never worried too much about defense in his
coaching career. He’ll fit in well at SMU. The Mustangs had one
of the nation’s worst units a year ago, finishing 116th
in total defense and 117th in scoring defense. Things
don’t figure to get any better for a group that’s undersized up
front, inexperienced at linebacker, and ineffective in pass
defense. The defense is especially thin at cornerback after
losing Jonathan Lindley and Brandon Jones to graduation. One
bright note is the return of S Rock Dennis, a heralded junior
college transfer, who sat out last year with a shoulder
Youri Yenga, 2.5
Interceptions: Bryan McCann, 4
of the defense:
Junior CB Bryan McCann
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore CB
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DE Youri Yenga
Best pro prospect: McCann
Top three all-star candidates: 1) McCann 2) Senior LB
Will Bonilla 3) Senior NG Serge Elizee
Strength of the defense: Experience in the secondary
Weakness of the defense: Run defense, pass defense,
Projected Starters: If, in fact, it all starts up
front, SMU will again be among the nation’s worst defenses.
After struggling to get pressure or stop the run, the Mustangs
must now develop successors for its best end and tackle. Hoping
to replace some of Cory Muse’s production on the outside will be
6-2, 225-pound sophomore Youri Yenga. A speedy edge
rusher with a great motor, he’s the type of player the staff
feels a defense can be built around. In his debut on the
Hilltop, he produced 27 tackles, six tackles for loss, and 2.5
Yenga’s partner on the other side will be 6-2, 240-pound
sophomore Anthony Sowe, a tremendous leaper with 4.5
speed. He mostly played on special teams a year ago, but has
added weight in the offseason and is poised to be a factor
coming off the edge.
To help bolster the inside for the Mustangs, senior Patrick
Handy is moving to tackle from end, where he had 11 tackles
last year. A veteran with three letters, he’s just 6-2 and 256
pounds, which means he’ll be at a severe weight disadvantage
every time he lines up.
Next to Handy at the nose will be 6-1, 301-pound senior Serge
Elizee, who had 22 tackles in his first season out of
College of the Sequoias. Originally signed by Minnesota out of
the Big Ten, he’s the one inside player who gives SMU a
fighter’s chance of stopping the run. He has a strong base and
does a nice job of clogging running lanes.
Projected Top Reserves: Junior tackle Chris
Parham brings a degree of girth and experience to the second
unit. A 6-3, 286-pounder, he’s played multiple positions along
the line, starting eight games last season and chipping in 20
tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss. He’s a nice insurance policy
in the event Handy can’t hold up at his new position.
After playing sparingly in seven games as a rookie, 6-3,
255-pound sophomore Jordan Johnson is looking for an
expanded role as the first end off the sidelines. Quick enough
to get penetration and big enough to defend the run, he had 10
tackles and two tackles for loss to build a solid foundation.
Watch Out For… the Mustangs to bring the pressure
without necessarily blitzing. They don’t have the big bodies up
front to play a bend-don’t-break style, so they’ll be getting
after it with an aggressive approach that aims for disruption.
Strength: Outside speed. All of a sudden, SMU
boasts some impressive athletes at defensive end, all of whom
are capable of getting off the edge in a hurry. Yenga, Sowe, and
Johnson are essentially outside linebackers masquerading as
Weakness: Take your pick. The Mustangs aren’t very
good at stopping the run or at getting after the passer. Of the
starters coming out of spring, only Elizee is greater than 256
pounds, which will be a nagging issue throughout the season.
Outlook: There’s not much to like about a line
that’s undersized and has problems making plays behind the line
of scrimmage. Those opponents on the schedule, such as TCU, UCF,
and Navy that commit to the run will get little resistance from
the SMU front wall. The Mustang line was bad last year. This
year, things could actually be worse.
Projected Starters: The only returning starter is
a good one, senior Will Bonilla, who’s back for his final
season at strongside. In the most extensive action of his
career, he responded with a team-high 82 tackles, five tackles
for loss, two picks, and two forced fumbles. At 5-11 and 225
pounds, he has clear size limitations, but compensates by
playing very fast and with tremendous intensity.
Sophomore Justin Smart is moving over from defensive end
to take over at middle linebacker, a more natural position for
him. Locked up with much bigger players, he only managed 29
tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, and 1.5 sacks, numbers he’ll
obliterate this season. At 6-2 and 240 pounds, he has the right
size, instincts, and leadership ability to excel in the new job.
Taking over at weakside will be 6-2, 226-pound sophomore Pete
Fleps, who lettered and had 10 tackles a year ago. While not
a top recruit coming out of high school, he’s already shown
enough lateral quickness and football IQ to prove that he
belongs in the lineup. His experience at national powerhouse
Southlake Carroll (Tex.) High School has him well-prepared for
Projected Top Reserves: After playing in 11 games
and making 14 tackles, 6-0, 215-pound junior Chase Kennemer
is poised for an even bigger role on the defense. The most
experienced of the reserve linebackers, he’ll back up Fleps at
The heir apparent to Bonilla at strongside is sophomore Jason
Jackson, mostly a special teamer up to this point. Built
like a safety at 6-0 and 219 pounds, he has the speed and
agility to be used in a multitude of different ways.
Watch Out For… Smart. Moving him back a level will
wind up being one of the best personnel decisions of the
offseason. He has the right mix of size and intangibles to pile
up a ton of tackles as the new middle linebacker.
Strength: Motors. While not the most impressive
physical specimens, Bonilla, Smart, and Fleps are all battlers
who won’t quit on a play until the whistle blows.
Weakness: Size. Besides Smart, none of the
linebackers have ideal size for the position, creating a
potential liability when they’re forced to cover tight ends or
take on a lineman who gets to the second level.
Outlook: Long-term, there’s potential in players,
like Smart and Fleps, who have contagious attitudes and a
passion for the game. This year, however, the unit will struggle
to slow down physical running games, especially considering the
dearth of talent up front.
Projected Starters: An already beleaguered
defensive backfield is trying to regroup from the suspension of
SS Bryce Hudman and the graduations of cornerbacks Jonathan
Lindley and Brandon Jones. The return of 6-0, 176-pound junior
Bryan McCann, the program’s best cover corner, is the
only positive news at the position. He’s a playmaker with the
speed and field awareness to shut down the other team’s best
receiver. After making 59 tackles and picking off a team-high
four passes, he’s ready to land a spot on the All-Conference USA
Opposite McCann will be 5-10, 167-pound sophomore Derrius
Bell, who better be prepared to get picked on a lot this
fall. A terrific athlete coming off a solid spring, he’ll have
to prove to opposing quarterbacks that it’s a mistake to
repeatedly look his way. He lettered as a freshman, playing in
nine games and making eight stops.
Sophomore Tyler Jones is back for his second season as
the starting free safety. In his debut, he proved to be a
vicious hitter and reliable in run defense. The 6-1, 203-pound
thumper chipped in 51 tackles and 4.5 tackles for loss, needing
to make strides in pass defense.
The Mustangs will finally get their first good look at 5-10,
189-pound junior SS Rock Dennis, the prized transfer from
Garden City (Kan.) Community College, who sat out 2007 with a
shoulder injury. While not that big, he has the speed and cover
skills of a corner, something this secondary sorely needs.
Projected Top Reserves: It’s only matter of time
before sophomore SS De’Von Bailey starts logging
significant minutes for the Mustang D. A top recruit who fielded
Big 12 offers in 2007, he has blazing speed and good ball skills
wrapped in a 6-2, 209-pound frame. After lettering a year ago
and playing in seven games, he’ll see his playing time increase
markedly this fall.
Incoming junior college transfer Deyon McElroy is exactly
what SMU needs to bolster the depth at cornerback. A confident
6-0, 180-pounder who doesn’t get beat on the deep balls, he
could challenge Bell if he learns the playbook and adapts fast
enough to the speed of the game.
Watch Out For… Dennis. The Mustangs felt he would
start last year before the injury occurred. The old staff loved
his athleticism and physicality, traits that haven’t been lost
on the new staff.
Strength: McCann. In a pedestrian group of
defensive backs, he stands out as the one player opposing
quarterbacks will try to avoid. If he can cut off one side of
the field, blowing up the Mustang secondary gets a bit tougher.
Weakness: Preventing the big play. The disturbing
numbers from last year don’t lie—SMU cannot stop the pass. The
Mustangs were 116th nationally against the pass, a
ranking that must be improved if the program is going to take a
Outlook: A young secondary and a lack of a pass
rush is a recipe for disaster, especially for a school in
pass-happy Conference USA. The Mustangs have some good athletes
in the defensive backfield, but lack the consistency or cover
skills to avoid a repeat of last season’s abysmal results.
Projected Starters: Senior Thomas Morstead
basically is the special teams for the Mustangs, handling
the punting and placekicking. As the punter, the 6-5, 233-pound
boomer was First Team All-Conference USA, leading the league
with a whopping 44.6-yard average. As the kicker, however, he
was far less reliable, connecting on just 13-of-20 field goal
attempts. He nailed three from beyond 50 yards, so leg strength
is no concern, but his consistency needs to be addressed before
the start of the season.
Senior Jessie Henderson and junior Emmanuel Sanders
are back as the kickoff and punt returners, respectively.
Neither did much damage a year ago, with Henderson averaging
21.4 yards and Sanders just over nine. For a spark, the Mustangs
could turn to junior Bryan McCann, who has special teams
Watch Out For… Henderson. Although he hasn’t been
the same since getting hurt in 2006, Henderson still has the
potential and track record to be a dynamite weapon in the return
game. Last year’s paltry average fails to point out that he was
all-conference his first two seasons.
Strength: Leg strength. Morstead has one of the
biggest legs in the country, allowing him to destroy the ball as
a punter and reach the uprights from well beyond 50 yards as a
kicker. He’s a unique, and often overlooked, tool for the
offense and defense.
Weakness: The return game. Henderson has a lot of
zip, but too often, he failed to get unzipped in 2007. He and
Sanders were the main culprits in a return game that ranked near
the bottom of Conference USA in both categories.
Outlook: If Henderson can recapture his old form,
SMU has the ingredients of one of the league’s best special
teams units. Morstead is a Ray Guy Award candidate and the
coverage units quietly did a terrific job of preventing big
plays a year ago.