The highlight of the SMU secondary last year was cornerback Richard Crawford, who made First-Team All Conference-USA after collecting two interceptions along with 13 pass-breakups.
Unfortunately Crawford is gone and safety Chris Banjo also departs after a season that saw him earn a spot as an honorable mention on the All Conference-USA team, but most importantly his leadership ability is what will be sorely missed.
Even Banjo's leadership could not push the Mustangs to turn the ball over. The Mustangs finished with a -16 turnover margin and for June Jones' teams, a positive turnover margin is vital to the entire team's success. The secondary did not provide any help with that. The Mustangs had a rough time defending the pass and an even tougher time taking the ball away.
Although the secondary had a tough time making plays, the group was impressive in run support with Banjo leading the way with 82 tackles. Defensive coordinator Tom Mason makes sure his defensive backs are reading to be at the line of scrimmage ready to provide run support and that was a bright spot for the Mustangs, but the turnover margin was inexcusable and a major reason why SMU sputtered down the stretch against veteran C-USA quarterbacks.
This year's young secondary will look to senior safety Ryan Smith to step up into the leadership role that was left open by Banjo's departure and everyone around the team believes he will do just that. Smith was tested last season, but with another full season under his belt in Mason's defense will allow him to play even faster and smarter this upcoming season.
The other returning starter, Kenneth Acker, needs to step up even more now that Crawford is not on the opposite side of him on the field.
Acker was picked on multiple times last year and SMU's secondary was not that great at taking the ball away to begin with. The first test for Acker of the year against Baylor's Terrance Williams could make or break his confidence for the season. If Acker holds his own or even dominates Williams, expect him to play with a swagger the rest of the season that has not been seen since Sterling Moore patrolled the secondary for the Mustangs.
With all the physical tools and a long athletic frame, junior Jay Scott will provide an upgrade in athleticism to the departed Banjo and due to his experience as a high school quarterback, his skills of reading quarerbacks' minds could come in handy for the Mustangs. Scott will be tutored by Smith along with transfer Daniel Roundtree, who could see time at the nickel this season.
Sophomore cornerback J.R. Richardson enters his first season starting at cornerback and is undersized but is probably the most athletic player in the secondary with his jumping ability and speed that fans saw at kick returner last year.
Richardson has all the skills to be a great corner, but he must learn to make his lack of size as little a factor as possible. Opposing coaches will undoubtedly try to take advantage of Richardson's height by creating mismatches through motion and shifts, but Richardson must learn to hold his own.
The wild-card in the secondary could be Roundtree, who played last season at Cerritos Community College in Norwalk, Calif., and went through spring practice. He has all the physical tools to lineup all over the field. Roundtree was very impressive in the spring even without fully understanding Mason's playbook.
Roundtree, 6-foot-2, 210-pounds, looks like a man roaming the secondary and could even push for time in the starting lineup if Scott or Smith's production falls off or they get injured.
The secondary cannot get much worse at creating turnovers, but the Mustangs will have some inexperience in the secondary so it will be tough to judge just how big of a jump they might make this season.
The Mustang will be helped by what should be an impressive front seven to take some of the pressure off of the secondary. If the secondary can get it together, the defense has a chance to be special with the front seven providing the pressure on opposing quarterbacks to force them into costly mistakes that the secondary can capitalize on and get the SMU offense back on the field.
Position Coach: Derrick Odum: Derrick Odum enters his fifth season as the secondary coach at SMU. He continues to be one of the best coaches on the SMU staff at developing the talent that he is given. Since coming to Dallas from Utah in 2008, Odum has been viewed as a rising star and a coach that will one day be calling the plays for his own defense as a coordinator. Since 2009, SMU has had at least two defensive backs make the All Conference-USA list, which speaks to the playmaking ability Odum has impressed upon his players. Odum tutored Bryan McCann, Sterling Moore and most recently Richard Crawford and put them into the NFL.
Pony Stampede Two-Deep:
LCB- 1. J.R. Richardson 2. Chris Parks
SS- 1. Ryan Smith 2. Daniel Roundtree
FS- 1. Jay Scott 2. Jeremy Gray
RCB- 1. Kenneth Acker 2. Keith Robinson
Others to Watch:
Fr. A.J. Justice, Fr. Shakiel Randolph, R-Fr. Rodney Hubert, So. Hayden Greenbauer
Position Preview: Defensive Backs
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