June Jones needs to rediscover his inner giant killer, the trait that led Hawaii to historic heights and landed him at SMU. After a 5-7 2013 the Ponies are optimistic for better results in 2014. How they get there may be an interesting and difficult proposition. Pencils out, it's summer school on the Hilltop.
Questions that need answering...
Will there be any offensive explosions this year?
Hal Mumme is gone. He couldn't resist that Belhaven job. In his one year as OC at SMU the Ponies looked...dinky and dunky. SMU was gifted an above average season out of Garrett Gilbert, an excellent season by past Garrett Gilbert measurement, but the 'Stangs weren't putting any pressure on anyone. Well at least anyone good. Gilbert is gone but his replacement is only a piece of the puzzle.
Jason Phillips "replaces" Mumme as offensive coordinator. We use quotations because the real offensive coordinator is and always has been June Jones. A decent running game, or at least the threat of one could go a long way towards helping SMU offensively. Impact transfer Traylon Shead wasn't much of a impact due to injury and Prescott Line didn't demonstrate the same ability as his older brother. The loss of four offensive line contributors hurts as well. Gilbert was the most effective runner on campus last season, this year Line and K.C. Nlemchi will carry the load on the ground. Both are above average catching out of the backfield.
One wild card could be addition of true freshman Daniel Gresham from All Saints Episcopal. Gresham originally committed to Texas and was the top rated fullback in the country. He had offers from Texas, Louisville, Auburn and Arkansas but after committing to Texas and then Louisville, his offer was pulled by Bobby Petrino and he was left without a chair until SMU came along. At 5-9 236 he's a thumper and may be a great change of pace option in the backfield.
SMU spent the spring trying to figure out replacements for receivers Jeremy Johnson and Keenan Holman and their near 180 combined catches. Darius Joseph caught 104 balls last year, though his yards per target was just over 5. Der'rikk Thompson missed 3 games in 2013 with injury, but the Troup native is explosive. SMU needs some of that.
So who replaces Garrett Gilbert?
A year ago replacing Garrett Gilbert didn't seem like a tough task, we even wondered if it shouldn't have already happened. Then he went and put up a career season. Now replacing Gilbert has become problematic. At least SMU has options.
Neil Burcham came out of the spring listed as the de facto starter. He's accurate, but he'll need to make quicker decisions out of the pocket to improve an almost 10% sack rate. Burcham may be faster than Gilbert but he's not as big so running may be risky.
Not as risky for Matt Davis to run. The A&M/Tyler JC transfer has been a big addition to SMU's 2014 efforts. Highly recruited out of Klein Forest, Davis found himself on the wrong end of the Johnny Manziel phenomena at A&M. He's big, athletic, and he could be the complete package, provided he can throw. Bear in mind that Jones let Gilbert use his legs more by design last season, Davis is a more gifted runner so more of the same could be in order. Davis, due to injury, saw action in only four games at TJC last season and in only one of those outings did his completion percentage top 60%.
An interesting option may be Darrell Colbert, the true freshman from Houston Lamar. Colbert did something unheard of by leading and HISD school to the state title game in 2012. He took Lamar deep last year as well. Colbert is undersized but he's smart and apparently a gym rat. At Hawaii Jones did wonders with an undersized local kid named Timmy Chang. Colbert could be a steal for the SMU. Ideally he'll redshirt to put some meat on his bones before being thrown to the wolves.
What about corner?
Kenneth Acker and Chris Parks are both gone, with them go 61 combined starts for the Mustangs. SMU hasn't been shopping for a starting corner since 2012.
Sophomores like Ajee Montes, Horace Richardson, and J.R. Richardson will all get looks and have all seen action at corner. Both Richardsons have overcome knee injuries to contribute and they come out of spring as the starters or at least have a leg up. Montes will likely be the critical third corner for SMU.
Still, as athletically gifted as the newbies may be, they will lack the knowledge and gut instincts that Acker and Parks possessed. Then again that may be overstated, even with Acker and Parks, the unit ranked 115th in the yards per game given up via the air, so maybe anything will be an improvement. Add to that the 2013 version of SMU's defense was replacing almost the entire front seven and maybe there's reason to be optimistic with SMU returning talent up front. Who knows? It's a crap shoot.
This would be the part where we mention the symbiotic relationship between offensive units, special teams and defense. SMU needs improvement all the way around to help and defense and by definition help the young guys in the secondary.
Who's that guy?
Cedric Lancaster RS FR WR 5-8 165 Houston Lamar
If there was one breakout star of spring ball at SMU it was Cedric Lancaster. Lancaster appeared in one game in 2013 before injury forced him out. The Lamar graduate showed savvy beyond his years with his route running and ability to find holes in the secondary.
Lancaster is also a plus athlete who can stretch a defense vertically. They'll be balls that need catching next season at SMU, Lancaster should be one of a crop of young receivers who will get a chance to make plays.
June Jones seems to like him a lot; “He’s probably one of the fastest players we’ve had in a long time. I don’t think anybody can cover him. He’s a real smart kid. He’s a real consciences kid. He paid attention in our meetings even though he wasn’t able to practice. He got a lot of reps this 15-day period, so he’ll come in the fall with a lot of confidence.”
He'll also help in the return game, having seen action, however brief, as a punt and kick returner in 2013.