SMU Fall Camp Notebook: Day 2

The Pony Stampede staff will be at every SMU fall camp practice this month and will provide exclusive stories, videos, and observations. Today we reflect on Day 2.

Acker ready to be playmaker in secondary

By Beionny Mickles

To be a starting cornerback, confidence has to be something that comes natural. Going into his junior season for the Mustangs, cornerback Kenneth Acker has plenty of confidence in his abilities, especially with a year as a starter notched under his belt.

"I feel more relaxed, not as much pressure on myself. I'm just going out there and trying to have fun again," Acker said. "I don't really have to worry about the calls that much. I can just go out there and play."

As a sophomore, Acker had a decent season for the Mustangs in 2011, tallying 63 tackles, four pass breakups, and an interception, but this year he plans to step his game up to another level and is pressuring himself to raise his standards especially in the interception category, where SMU finished last in the conference a year ago.

"Being a more seasoned veteran I feel like I have a bigger chance at making opportunities for myself," Acker said. "I can play more balls and not just sit back and play my role. I feel that it gives me an opportunity to go out there and try to be like I was in high school and make a little bit more plays."

With the departure of cornerback Richard Crawford and safety Chris Banjo, the secondary for the Mustangs will have a different look. Stepping in at cornerback opposite Acker will be true sophomore James ‘J.R.' Richardson. Acker, who started as a true sophomore himself, says he is more than comfortable with Richardson's early rise on the depth chart.

"I like J.R. a lot because he has confidence and playing corner, you're out there on an island all the time. Most of the time you're by yourself," Acker said. "If you don't believe in yourself, you're going to get beat out there, and he believes that nobody can catch a ball on him, and that's what you need."

Junior defensive back Jay Scott will take over for Banjo who was looked at as one of the leaders on defense for the Mustangs. The only senior left in the secondary is fifth year player Ryan Smith, who Acker says has already stepped into a leadership role on the field and should have a big year in 2012.

"Ryan works real hard, and I've seen big progress from just last year to this year," Acker said. "He's one of those guys where if you need some film studied or if you need anything you can go (to him) because you know Smitty's going to be doing it. Look you can see, he's the last one on the field right now. I think it's going to be a big year for Smitty."

Both Smith and Acker will have to mentor their teammates in the secondary and they'll have to establish a rapport quickly. In its first four games SMU will face Baylor's Terrance Williams, Texas A&M's Ryan Swope, and TCU's Josh Boyce. Acker says that it's important for him to knock these receivers off their game for SMU to have a shot at winning.

"Those are key receivers on their teams and if you've got those guys who usually catch a lot of balls not doing that, they've got to go to something they haven't done before which is trying to go to other receivers or use their run game more often than they want to," Acker said. "I feel if I can take them out of the game then we've got a better chance."

Acker knows that he will have to be a fixture at cornerback this year in order for the Mustangs to have a shot at competing for a Conference USA title and he's looking forward to the start of the season. When asked which game he's most amped for and why, he simply replied:

"Baylor, because it's the closest one."

Video: OL Jordan Free talks about his fall camp experience

Tired of living in brother's shadow, Yenga is ready to make a name for himself

By EJ Holland

The surname Yenga is popular among SMU circles. Just a couple of years ago, Youri Yenga was a dominant linebacker for the Mustang defense, but now a new generation is taking over.

"Coach Joe (Haering) always tells me Youri was tougher, but I'm more athletic," said redshirt freshman Jonathan Yenga. "We both got speed. I'm just trying to live up to that legacy and be better than my brother. I'm going to do everything I can to work towards that."

Like his elder sibling, Yenga plays linebacker and can wreck havoc in opposing backfields. As a senior at Euless Trinity, he racked up 134 tackles and three sacks, which led to quite a few BCS offers. But Yenga wanted to continue the family tradition of playing on the Hilltop.

"It was a great pleasure to be a part of SMU while Youri was here. They offered me my junior, and I knew my brother played here so I came up here to watch them practice," Yenga said. "I really liked everything from the coaching staff to the style of practice. When I came here, I already knew some of the players so it was easy to adapt and feel comfortable."

A highly touted recruit, Yenga expected to get some immediate playing time as a true freshman but instead was given a redshirt. Now, the 6-foot-2, 205-pounder is more determined than ever.

"I wasn't disappointed that I redshirted. It happens to a lot of freshman. I didn't get a lot of physical reps, but I did get mental reps by just watching the defense practice," Yenga said. "This summer, I've been getting bigger and stronger. A big thing is learning the scheme and adapting to the speed of the game so I can be a contributor this season."

And Youri, who is currently playing in the CFL for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers after serving a short stint with the Atlanta Falcons, will always be there for support and guidance.

"He always calls me to check in on me. Every time he calls me, he gives me advice," Yenga said. "He tells me to stay humble and that things might be tough but you have to go through tough times to get better. He's a really positive influence in my life."

Day 2 Observations

- June Jones was trying to be stylish this morning be wearing a backwards blue, yes blue, SMU cap

- Today was surprisingly a very vocal practice today on both sides of the ball

- All the offensive lineman failed their conditioning test yesterday and had to run extra after practice

- Freshman quarterback Neal Burcham wore a knee brace today as he continues to recover from a torn ACL

- As we reported yesterday, its clear Burcham is not at full strength. Today it was evident as he badly underthrew Gehrig Dieter on a fade route

- Senior offensive lineman Jordan Free is nursing a back injury and iced it down during practice

- Fellow lineman Taylor Reich is still recovering from a broken ankle but did some conditioning drills before getting iced down

- Due to Free's injury, McJunkin was moved to left guard while Taylor Lasecki stepped in at center and Stavion Lowe at right tackle

- Freshman OL Christian Chamagua is not practicing this week due to a hamstring injury that he suffered during yesterday's conditioning test

- Defensive end Jarrett Spencer continues to do separate conditioning drills and looks a bit out of shape

- Jared Williams continues to rehab from a broken leg but showed nice agility as he worked on various cone drills

- Bobby Waid and Marcus Holyfield were the least impressive receivers today. Both dropped balls and ran sloppy routes

- Dieter looked kind of slow today wasn't very dynamic in his route running. He also dropped a perfect ball that he got both hands on in the numbers

- Stephen Nelson and freshman Daijuan Stewart continue to impress and are developing a nice relationship with Garrett Gilbert, who once again looked amazing

- Quarterbacks threw intermediate and deeper routes today in drills and Gilbert's arm looks very strong

- Quarterbacks and wide receivers worked with the offensive line today

- Connor Preston looked very accurate and got the ball out much quicker than last practice

- Stephon Sanders received praise from defensive coordinator Tom Mason

- Randall Joyner did a great job of calling defensive plays on 2nd team defense

- Coach Mason receives the quote of the day after he made the defense start over while doing "up-downs" saying, "We're seriously having trouble doing up-downs? We pay attention to detail in everything that we do so let's start over; DOWN!"

- Mason recognized freshman Jarvis Pruitt for asking a smart question in an 11-on-11 drill.

- Coach Mason got on sophomore Robet Seals in a drill about picking up the "pitch" when they were working against the option offense.

- Jay Scott and Joyner both had nice interceptions on 7-on-7 drills

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