2009 SMU Preview - Defense
SMU LB Yenga Youri
SMU LB Yenga Youri
Posted Jul 16, 2009

CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - SMU Mustang Defense

SMU Mustangs

Preview 2009 - Defense

- 2009 CFN SMU Preview | 2009 SMU Offense
- 2009 SMU Defense | 2009 SMU Depth Chart
2008 SMU Preview | 2007 SMU Preview
| 2006 SMU Preview

What you need to know: Realizing that it housed more linebacker-types on the roster, SMU is switching to a 3-4 alignment this season. With an extra athlete on the field, the hope is that the Mustangs can use their team speed to string out more plays. It can’t hurt, right? While the offense has flashed signs of progress, the defense is showing wear-and-tear, ranking 115th or lower in run defense, pass efficiency defense, scoring defense, and total defense. These Mustangs don’t discriminate, allowing every opponent to take its best shot and gallop up and down the field. If there’s hope, it can be found in that linebacker corps, which is aggressive and features Youri Yenga and Pete Fleps, a pair of all-conference-caliber juniors.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Pete Fleps, 106
Sacks: Youri Yenga, 6.5
Interceptions: Bryan McCann, 3

Star of the defense: Junior LB Yourri Yenga
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior CB Derrius Bell
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DE Taylor Thompson
Best pro prospect: Yenga
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Yenga, 2) LB Pete Fleps, 3) CB Bryan McCann
Strength of the defense: Linebackers
Weakness of the defense: The Defense. Takeaways

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: Considering the wholesale changes and lack of proven players up front, shifting to the 3-4 couldn’t come at a better time. One player the team plans to build around is Taylor Thompson, who has as much potential as anyone on the defense. In fact, you can hear the excitement in June Jones’ voice when he talks about the sophomore. A 6-6, 256-pounder with great burst and acceleration, he lettered in his first season out of high school, making 23 tackles in 10 games.

Leading the way at the other defensive end opening is junior Marquis Frazier, a first-year transfer from Navarro (Tex.) Junior College. At 6-4 and 281 pounds, he’s a versatile strongside end, who’ll be counted on to play a larger role than Thompson in run defense. After sitting out the 2008 season with a knee injury, he could be a little rusty when the season begins.

The closest thing the Mustangs have to a veteran is junior Chris Parham, who played in five games last season and started eight times as a first-year player. A thick 6-0, 298-pounder, he’s expected to be the starting nose guard in September. He plays with leverage and has a solid base, making him the team’s top run-stopper.

Projected Top Reserves: Sophomore DE Torlan Pittman played in 11 games in his first year, making 11 tackles and earning a start against UTEP. A squat, 5-11, 275-pound, he’s not much of a pass rusher, but has the size and strength to clog lanes on running downs.

Backing up Parham at the nose is 6-1, 335-pound sophomore Evan Huahulu, one of the Mustangs’ strongest players. A former wrestler in high school, he uses his hands well and has a great motor. He has the highest ceiling of the interior linemen, posing a legitimate threat to win the job in the summer.

Watch Out For… Thompson. He’s the one player of this group, who really stands out for his ability to create pressure. Defensive ends that posses Thompson’s combination of great size and athleticism usually wind up spending their college careers in the Big 12. He’s going to surprise a lot of people this fall.
Strength: Girth. This is actually a pretty sizable defensive line by the program’s recent standards. Thompson and Frazier are as big as some Conference USA tackles, and Parham is a solid 300-pounder. Plus, Huahulu is a 6-1, 335-pound beast, who’s going to be very difficult to move off the ball.
Weakness: Stopping the run. Although it’s an entirely different group from a year ago, is anyone convinced that SMU has solved its issues in run defense? The Mustangs allowed a league-worst 225 yards a game and five yards a carry, and are pulling one big body off the field in favor of the 3-4.
Outlook: This is a trouble area for the program with no easy solution in sight. The reality is that many opponents will be able to drive them off the ball, picking up huge chunks of yardage on the ground. Thompson is one reason to be excited. It’s early in the sophomore’s career, but he’s added considerable weight in the offseason, and flashes the signs of a next-level defensive end prospect.
Rating: 4.5


Projected Starters: The Mustangs are well-stocked at linebacker in order to handle the switch to a 3-4 alignment. In fact, the talent at linebacker was the impetus for the change. One of last year’s peak performers, junior Youri Yenga, has been moved from defensive end to weakside linebacker, a better fit for his skill set. Despite facing much bigger competition, the 6-1, 223-pounder totaled 73 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks, and three forced fumbles. An explosive pass rusher, he’ll be used as a stand-up outside guy, who’ll blitz frequently.

The new buck linebacker, one of the two inside guys, is last year’s leading tackler, 6-1, 228-pound junior Pete Fleps. In his first season as a starter, he had 106 stops, 6.5 tackles for loss, and a couple of forced fumbles. An outstanding read and react guy and the leader of the unit, he’ll be calling the signals for the defense. While not heavily recruited out of high school, he’s one of those high quality, team-first players, who fits in nicely in Dallas.    

For the time being, 6-0, 211-pound senior Chase Kennemer has the edge at the other inside spot. While not spectacular, he’s been a steady letterman the last two seasons, making a career-high 25 stops in 2008. Even if he gets bumped from this spot before the opener, he’ll wind up playing a vital role on defense and special teams.

Like Yenga, 6-4, 236-pound junior Patrick Fleming is being relocated from defensive end to outside linebacker, where he’ll have more room to freelance and make plays. He played in a dozen games a year ago, making seven tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, and three sacks. That ability to get to the passer has value to a team that was 89th nationally in sacks in 2008.

Projected Top Reserves: The Mustangs’ most experienced reserve is 6-0, 223-pound junior Ryan Moczygemba, who played in all 12 games a year ago to earn his second career letter. A scrappy, try-hard guy on the inside, he contributed 19 tackles and four tackles for loss.

The program is excited about getting the services of sophomore Aaron Davis, a transfer from Fresno State, who sat out last season per NCAA rules. At 6-2 and 240 pounds, he’s thicker than your average Mustang linebacker and has the lateral speed to

Watch Out For… junior Justin Smart. Suspended for the final two games of 2008, he’s currently buried on the depth chart and trying to work his way back into good standing with the coaching staff. On talent alone, the 6-2, 237-pound former end belongs on the field, making 74 tackles in his first season at linebacker.
Strength: Intensity. Up and down the roster, the Mustangs feature a collection of self-made players, who battle until the whistle blows. With guys, like Fleps and Yenga setting the tone, the linebackers will make a ton of plays all over the field this fall.
Weakness: Depth. Now that four linebackers will be in the huddle on every down, the team’s depth is going to be tested. If Smart is able to bump Kennemer to the B team, the Mustangs should be fine. If he has any problems getting back in the mix, some first-year players will have to contribute right away. 
Outlook: By SMU defensive standards, this is a very promising unit and one of the strengths of the program. Yenga and Fleps are all-conference-caliber performers, and the supporting cast is steady. With just three linemen being used, the outside guys are expected to create havoc and turnovers, especially on the blitz. Best of all, Kennemer is the only senior linebacker on the roster.
Rating: 5.5


Projected Starters: The Mustangs return plenty of familiar faces, nine letterwinners to be exact, but will it make a noticeable difference? SMU is home to one of the nation’s worst pass defenses, so there’s a ton of work to be done by the holdovers, and every position will be open to competition. For now, the cornerbacks appear to be 5-10, 179-pound senior Bryan McCann and 5-10, 165-pound junior Derrius Bell. A starter since the end of his freshman season, McCann is the program’s best cover corner and a terrific all-around athlete. As a junior, he had 35 tackles, two tackles for loss, three picks, and five passes broken up.

After getting picked on plenty during his first season as a starter, Bell hopes to be harder to beat in 2009. It would be an understatement to say he struggle a year ago; however, he did chip in 53 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, an interception, and a team-high nine pass breakups. While he shares McCann’s athletic skills and displayed excellent toughness in the open field, he must improve when the ball is in the air.  

Senior SS Rock Dennis had a year of eligibility restored, which was a positive offseason development for the defensive backfield. A top JUCO recruit in 2007, he finally got on the field last fall, making 53 tackles and breaking up six passes. While just 5-9 and 186 pounds, he plays a lot bigger and should be improved at defending the pass in his second season in the lineup.

One of last year’s surprises in the secondary was 5-10, 190-pound sophomore Chris Banjo, who nabbed the job at free safety, and played surprisingly well. A starter in the final seven games, he finished fourth on the team with 61 tackles. Originally a Hawaii commit, he switched allegiance and stayed close to home when June Jones took the job with the Mustangs.

Projected Top Reserves: Senior Bryce Hudman clearly has the talent to contribute to this group, but has to remain out of Jones’ crowded doghouse. He was suspended in 2008 for a violation of team rules, and will be returning this season with something to prove. A 6-2, 204-pound thumper, he had 82 tackles in 2007, including a Conference USA-record 26 at Arkansas State. For the time being, he’ll be second string to Banjo at free safety.

The closest thing to a veteran at cornerback will be sophomore Keith Robinson, who played in 11 games as a rookie and had 14 tackles. While very fast and athletic, he’s only 5-8 and 166 pounds, giving away a lot of size to outside receivers.

Watch Out For… Hudman. You don’t mess around with Jones. Hopefully, Hudman received that message last year. If the off-field issues are a thing of the past, he’s got the talent and intensity to give a boost to a group that desperately needs it.
Strength: Tackling. When you play defensive back at SMU, you get plenty of practice tackling in the open field. If you don’t learn to wrap up backs and receivers, you’ll spend a lot of time on your back and on the bench.                 
Weakness: Everything involving pass defense. For the second straight year, SMU had one of the nation’s flimsiest defensive backfields, finishing last in pass efficiency defense. In Conference USA, the Mustangs were last in interceptions and near the bottom in touchdowns yielded, a sure-fire recipe for disaster.
Outlook: To be sure, the only way is up after the Mustangs got picked apart by opposing passers for a second straight year. The encouraging news is that everyone returns, lending hope that they’ll be better prepared to make stops and prevent big plays. While there should be progress, don’t expect any overnight transformations from this group.
Rating: 4

Special Teams

Projected Starters: The graduation of Thomas Morstead, an NFL prospect, leaves the Mustangs with a gaping hole at punter and placekicker. At the front of the line to fill both positions is junior Matt Szymanski, a transfer from Texas A&M. While heavily recruited by the Aggies, he lacked consistency in College Station, making only 17-of-30 field goals in two years of work. Still, he has tremendous leg strength, hitting a 61-yarder in high school, and has to be considered a step up from the alternatives on the roster.

If Szymanski is a no-show as a punter, placekicker, or kickoff specialist, senior Kellis Cunningham will be there to fill the void. A three-time letterwinner at the school, he’s handled kickoffs since arriving in 2006.

Watch Out ForJustin Willis. Yup, the same Willis, who started at quarterback for two seasons before June Jones arrived is now a part of the special teams. He’s the top candidate to return punts, looking to spark a component that ranked 97th nationally and averaged just over six yards a return.
Strength: Leg strength. Setting aside accuracy for a moment, Szymanski’s leg strength is not up for debate. He’s an old-fashioned boomer, with the pop to convert field goals beyond 50 yards and be a major asset on kickoffs.
Weakness: The return game. This has been a problem in Dallas for the last couple of seasons. Ever since Jessie Henderson tailed off, the Mustangs have been unable to find a suitable replacement. Last year’s team was 97th nationally on punt returns and 86th on kickoffs, a drag on field position.
Outlook: While you certainly don’t get better by losing Morstead, Szymanski is an intriguing answer to the vacancies at punter and kicker. If he makes the most of this new lease on life, the decline of the special teams from a year ago won’t be nearly as precipitous.
Rating: 5
Related Stories
2009 SMU Preview – Depth Chart
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jul 16, 2009
2009 SMU Preview - Offense
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jul 16, 2009
2009 CFN SMU Preview
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jul 16, 2009

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