2009 SMU Preview - Offense
SMU WR Aldrick Robinson
CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - SMU Mustang Offense
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like he’s done throughout his coaching career, second-year head
coach June Jones aims to spread the field with four or five
receivers, peppering defenses with short and intermediate
strikes. After using last year as one big learning process, the
Mustangs are much better prepared to fulfill their leader’s
wishes. Jones bit the bullet by giving the ball to true freshman
Bo Levi Mitchell, which should start paying larger dividends in
2009. He made plenty of mistakes, but also made huge strides,
while developing chemistry with the dynamic receiving duo of
Aldrick Robinson and Emmanuel Sanders. Don’t expect Hawaii circa
2007 quite yet. Then again, don’t count on SMU circa 2008
either. With most of the main ingredients back, the Mustangs
will better last season’s 21 points and 314 yards a game.
of the offense:
Senior WR Emmanuel Sanders
Passing: Bo Levi Mitchell
236-410, 2,855 yds, 24 TD, 23
Rushing: Chris Butler
33 carries, 174 yds
Receiving: Emmanuel Sanders
67 catches, 958 yds, 9 TD
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore QB
Bo Levi Mitchell
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LT Kelvin Beachum
Best pro prospect: Junior WR Aldrick Robinson
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Sanders, 2) Robinson,
3) C Mitch Enright
Strength of the offense: Passing Game, Receivers
Weakness of the offense: Line, Running Game
You just knew that when June Jones was hired, nothing would ever
be the same at SMU. Bo
Levi Mitchell, for example. Recruited out of Katy (Tex.)
High School specifically to run this offense, the wide-eyed 6-1,
201-pounder was given the ball as a true freshman and thrown
into the deep end of the pool. He responded predictably, making
plenty of mistakes and getting light years better as the season
progressed. In the end, he finished 236-of-410 for 2,865 yards,
24 touchdowns, and a nation’s-high 23 interceptions. Most
important, he lived to tell about it, growing markedly since
that baptism under fire.
Reserves: Logan Turner is no longer with the program,
clearing a path for redshirt freshman
Braden Smith to be
this year’s backup. Despite being just 5-11 and 194 pounds, he
has good zip on his passes and usually puts the ball where only
his guy can grab it. He’s also a coach’s son and played in a
high school system that threw the ball liberally. Experience
aside, he’s a nice fit for the Mustangs.
J.J. McDermott brings
a much-needed veteran feel to the depth chart. Formerly a backup
at New Mexico State, he has 12 games of FBS experience, going
67-of-111 for 676 yards, two touchdowns and six interceptions.
The biggest of the Mustang quarterbacks at 6-4 and 223 pounds,
he throws with somewhat of a sidearm motion.
Watch Out For…
a different Mitchell. Last season, he was operating on pure guts
and instincts. This year, you can expect to see a more polished
passer, who spent part of the offseason working on his throwing
motion, cleaning up his footwork, and becoming a better student
of the run-and-shoot.
Strength: The system. Beauty is in the eye of the
beholder. No, Mitchell and Smith wouldn’t be ideal fits at many
schools, but the great thing about Jones’ offense is that it can
take marginal prospects and transform them into gunslingers.
With a full year now behind them, both quarterbacks are closer
to being quality hurlers in the run-and-shoot.
Turnovers. Crisp decision-making is an integral component for
success in this offense. And Mitchell still has a lot of
learning to do. He certainly made progress in 2008, yet still
made too mistakes and led the country in interceptions. The
picks will decline, but he’ll gift-wrap a bunch of presents for
opposing defensive backs.
Mitchell will be better, but how much? The answer will parallel
the program’s trend as well. He has the luxury of an outstanding
receiving corps, a terrific mentor, and a full season as the
starter. The touchdowns will go up and the picks will decline,
setting the stage for even better results in 2010.
At a feeble 41 yards a game, the Mustangs were last nationally
in rushing. That was partly by the design of the offense and
partly from awful execution. The leading returning rusher is
also the leading candidate to be the starter. Junior
Chris Butler carried
the ball 33 times for 174 yards, a healthy average of more than
five yards a pop. At 5-10 and 216 yards, he’s a physical,
north-south runner, who almost never gets taken down for minus
yards. He only had five catches for 14 yards, which could impact
his playing time if he’s not more available in the passing game.
Projected Top Reserves:
A more exciting option out of the backfield is 5-8, 182-pound
sophomore Bryce Lunday,
who’ll do a little bit of everything for the offense. Much more
of a breakaway threat than Butler, he’ll take handoffs, split
out wide, and catch passes as a traditional receiver. In space,
he can be very dangerous.
The X factor is junior
Shawnbrey McNeal, a
local kid who spent his first two seasons at Miami. He sat out
the spring to rehab a knee injury and hit the books, but will be
hard to keep off the field if granted an NCAA waiver that allows
him to play right away. A 5-10, 190-pound burner, he never quite
found his groove with the Hurricanes, getting just 33 career
carries for 152 yards and three touchdowns.
Watch Out For…
McNeal. It’s not often that a back of McNeal’s caliber makes his
way to Dallas unless he has a start on his helmet. He’s a Big 12
talent playing in a league of Conference USA defenses. Advantage
Mustangs. Of course, before doing his rendition of the Pony
Express, he’ll have to get healthy and get right academically.
Diversity. Butler is a no-nonsense pile-driver. Lunday is a
jack-of-all-trades. McNeal is the home run hitter. Together,
they form a nice blend of different skill set, provided they’re
able to get enough touches throughout the year.
Receiving skills. In this offense, carrying the ball 20 times a
game is not in the job description. Soft, reliable hands,
however, is non-negotiable. The Mustang backs were non-factors
in the passing game a year ago, catching the ball just 27 times
for a mere 150 yards. They’ve got to do a better job in this
area in 2009.
Outlook: Generally speaking, not too much is expected
from this unit. If the backs pass protect and catch a few
passes, they’ve earned their free ride. However, a little more
production wouldn’t be such a bad thing, especially as a
change-of-pace. The way SMU spreads out the field, the lanes
should be wide enough to spring the occasional big play. The
progress of McNeal, who could be a game-changer, bears watching.
If you’re going to install the run-and-shoot, you better have
some quality receivers. Check. It didn’t take June Jones long to
piece together a capable corps of pass-catchers. Of course, it
helped inheriting senior
Emmanuel Sanders and junior
Aldrick Robinson. Sanders was making plays before the
program went pass-happy, bringing 187 career receptions and 22
touchdowns into this final season. He peaked a year ago, making
a team-high 67 catches for 958 yards and nine scores in an
All-Conference USA campaign. A chiseled 5-11, 180-pounder, he
has a tremendous work ethic and the acceleration to pick up
extra yards after the catch and get behind the secondary.
Robinson was the revelation of this group in 2008. After
making 10 catches as a freshman, he erupted for 59 receptions
for 1,047 yards and 11 touchdowns. Already an exceptional
all-around athlete, he’s on the verge of becoming an exceptional
wide receiver. Described by Jones as one of the fastest players
he’s ever coached, the 5-10, 176-pounder is particularly
explosive in the first 10 yards, often getting into his cuts
before the defender is ready. Basically, he’s a future NFL
receiver going against Conference USA corners.
Cole Beasley seized
an opportunity in his first season, finishing third on the team
with 42 receptions for 366 yards and three scores. Jones has had
success in the past with these types of players, former high
school backs who get converted into slot receivers. Because of
his quickness and tremendous vertical ability, he’ll play bigger
than his 5-9, 174-pound frame.
Rounding out the
Mustangs’ four-wide sets is 5-10, 175-pound sophomore
who caught 24 passes for 233 yards and two touchdowns in his
debut. Another former quarterback who’s now catching passes at
SMU, he’s still learning the many nuances of the position. When
he breaks containment, he has good open-field quickness.
Projected Top Reserves:
The most experienced—and intriguing—of the reserves is 5-11,
197-pound senior Justin
Willis, the former starting quarterback in 2006 and 2007.
It’s a good thing he’s a solid all-around athlete because it’s
allowed to remain relevant to the program, even after Bo Levi
Mitchell came aboard. As a reserve in the slot a year ago, he
chipped in with 14 catches for 143 yards and a touchdown.
Haynes came on very strong toward the end of his first year,
which he hopes to carry into the 2009 season. Although he had
just 16 grabs for 198 yards and two touchdowns, all but two of
those catches came in the final three games. At 6-3 and 209
pounds, he has the size and strength to handle the pounding
endured by the receivers in this offense.
Once the seal
is broken on redshirt freshman
E.J. Drewery, the Mustangs are interested to see what he can
produce. On size alone, the 6-5, 219-pounder is going to cause
problems, especially on jump balls. He’s also very agile, which
could result in some highlight-reel plays.
Watch Out For…
Sanders to make occasional cameos on defense this fall. How much
does SMU respect the athleticism of No. 17? It plans to use him
at times at cornerback, hoping he can plug a hole or two in that
leaky Mustang secondary.
tandem. By themselves, Robinson and Sanders would be dangerous.
Together, however, they’re virtually impossible to corral
because they destroy any chance for doubling one player.
Overall, the athleticism and speed of the starters is
Consistency. From top to bottom, this is still a fairly youthful
corps that relies on a number of underclassmen. Besides reducing
the number of drops, Jones needs the kids to begin doing the
smaller things better, like running tighter routes and blocking
Everyone is back and a year older, which is promising news for
the passing attack. Not only are Sanders and Robinson all-stars
and legitimate next-level players, but all of the young kids
should be better prepared to contribute as secondary options
The SMU offensive line remains a serious work-in-progress that’s
littered with freshmen and sophomores. The one exception is
senior C Mitch Enright, a third-year starter and member of the 2008 Rimington
Trophy Watch List. After missing much of last year with a hand
injury, his return gives a big lift to the interior. While only
6-1 and 275 pounds, he has the head and the footwork to excel in
pass protection and earn all-conference honors for the first
The budding star of the line is 6-3, 271-pound
sophomore Kelvin Beachum, a 12-game starter last season at left tackle. June
Jones compares his balance, feet, and work ethic to former
Atlanta Falcon Bob Whitfield, a first-round selection in 1992.
He has tremendous upside potential, especially in pass
protection, which should begin bubbling to the surface this
The favorite to handle right tackle is 6-5,
312-pound sophomore J.T.
Brooks. While he saw enough action to earn a letter in his
first year, this qualifies as a major step up in responsibility.
He’s got the requisite size to be a tackle at this level, but
needed to chop weight when he arrived, and must maintain his
conditioning in this fast-paced offense.
Back at right
guard is 6-2, 276-pound sophomore
Bryce Tennison, who started 10games at the position a year ago. By
linemen standards, he’s a terrific all-around athlete with
surprising straight-line speed. More of a finesse guy than a
mauler, he’s continuously looking to improve his strength,
especially in the upper body.
Rounding out the unit at
left guard will be 6-3, 330-pound sophomore
Josh LeRibeus, the
biggest and most physical of the linemen. He played in 10 games
in his first year, earning starts against Texas State and
Memphis. He brings a certain attitude and physicality to a front
wall that sorely needs it. A lack of conditioning is the one
thing that could affect his spot in the rotation.
Projected Top Reserves:
When Enright was shelved last fall, 6-1, 263-pound sophomore
Blake McJunkin stepped into the lineup for the final 10 games and
played very well for a rookie. Already a heady player, he
regains the top job as soon as the incumbent runs out of
The other reserve who lettered a year ago
was 6-3, 293-pound sophomore
LeRibeus’ insurance policy at left guard. After losing the
battle for the starting job in the summer, he ended up appearing
in nine games, mostly on special teams.
Watch Out For…
progress. Not only were the linemen very young last year, but
they were also learning a completely new offense and blocking
scheme. With a full year to get bigger in the weight room and
smarter in the film room, the unit won’t look as lost as it did
at times in 2008.
Strength: Athleticism. While not very, as a whole, the
Mustang linemen are quick off the snap and above the curve
athletically. Jones made it clear when he arrived that the line
had to be in shape to block in this offense, and most of the
members have heeded his advice.
Inexperience. Yeah, they’re a year older and better prepared,
but this remains one of the nation’s youngest offensive lines,
featuring a whopping nine underclassmen on the two-deep. That’ll
pay off in 2010 and 2011, but right now, it’s going to equal a
level of inconsistency that impacts the entire offense.
headed in the right direction, the young Mustangs are still far
from their final destination. The offensive line is going to be
improved versus 2008, but by how much? The key will be to reduce
the number of sacks and hurries allowed, so Bo Levi Mitchell has
enough time to set in the pocket and go through his