2009 SMU Preview - Defense
SMU LB Yenga Youri
CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - SMU Mustang Defense
Preview 2009 - Defense
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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.
of the defense:
Junior LB Yourri Yenga
Tackles: Pete Fleps, 106
Youri Yenga, 6.5
Interceptions: Bryan McCann, 3
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior CB
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
If Szymanski is a no-show as a punter,
placekicker, or kickoff specialist, senior
will be there to fill the void. A three-time letterwinner at the
school, he’s handled kickoffs since arriving in 2006.
Watch Out For…
Justin 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. 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.
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.
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.
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