SMU’s first spring under new head coach Rhett Lashlee is in the books. What did we learn from the initial glimpse at next year’s Mustangs? It’s time for another position-by-position look. Up next…
Notable going: Trever Denbow (Graduated), T.Q. Jackson (Transfer), Jadarius Thursby (Transfer), Cam’Ron Jones (Transfer)
Notable coming: Chris Adimora (Transfer – Texas), Kevaris Hall (Transfer – Tulane), Pierre Goree (Recruit – Duncanville), Ahmaad Moses (Recruit – Mansfield Summit), Anthony Davis (Recruit – Skyline), Jayden Lawton (Recruit – Lovejoy)
What we learned: The spring game for SMU wasn’t exactly a spring game. Still, it did give a look at a potential depth chart heading into summer. Of course, the “starters” and “backups” from the final spring showcase aren’t written in stone for a Week 1 projection, but the defensive back groupings might’ve been the most interesting we saw. Specifically, the outside corners.
Ar’mani Johnson and Sam Westfall, two seniors, got the starting nod, while Jahari Rogers and Bryce McMorris, the starters as freshmen a season ago, ran with the second team. This simply could be an ode to seniority by new SMU corners coach Rickey Hunley Jr., and a sign that starting jobs must be earned, or it could be the way the new regime sees things early on.
Considering last season, that would be interesting. Rogers, a highly-touted transfer from Florida, and McMorris, a true freshman playing corner for the first time, got a lot of experience a season ago as young starters. There were a lot of learning lessons, too. SMU’s passing defense ranked 124th in the country, allowing an average of 278 yards per game and nearly 14 yards per completion. It was a glaring weakness for the Mustangs, and in losses against Houston, Cincinnati and Memphis, it was exposed.
But there could be long-term value in those experiences. A potential jump from Year 1 to Year 2 was a storyline worth following heading into spring. Rogers gave some credence to that idea with a huge tackle in the spring game – the biggest hit the entire night. McMorris had some good moments, as well. It’ll be intriguing to see how the battle for the outside corner spots goes in summer and fall.
As for the other defensive back spots, Isaiah Nwokobia – a breakout true freshman a season ago – and Bryan Massey got the start at safety, while Brandon Crossley got the majority of first team plays at nickel back. Massey showed his athleticism as a returner a season ago, but wasn’t utilized that much as a safety. I think that will change with new safeties coach Craig Naivar. Massey also had an impressive interception and return in the 7on7 section of the final spring showcase.
What we still need to learn: The Mustangs used a heavy rotation last year on defense. Will the new staff do that this season, considering the layers of competition they have for starting spots? Or will they identify starters early and ride with them?
Also, a lot of newcomers are on their way, including former Texas safety Chris Adimora, a former four-star recruit who recorded 61 tackles and defended seven passes in three seasons for the Longhorns. He should be a good candidate to crack the depth chart early, but can any other newcomers?
One word, plus analysis: Catalyst
I used pivotal as a one-word analysis for the defensive line in large part due to the struggles of the secondary a season ago. But what if the secondary doesn’t struggle like it did a season ago? That could be a catalyst for defensive success for the Mustangs in 2022.
QB | RB | WR | OL | DL | LB | DB | More to come…
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George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism