Pony Stampede Spring Preview: Defensive Line

Spring ball is just a week away! To get you ready, Pony Stampede will preview each position group before the Mustangs take the practice field. Today we take a look at the defensive line.

The Roster

With Margus Hunt, Torlan Pittman and Kevin Grenier as well as often used back-up Aaron Davis all lost to graduation, SMU will have three new starters along the defensive line and plenty of fresh faces getting in the rotation. Nose tackle is not very deep and most of the defensive ends are still unproven so battles for starting jobs should be quite heated.

DE Jarrett Spencer, 6-4, 265, Sophomore

DE Beau Barnes, 6-5, 240, Junior

DE Zach Wood, 6-3, 265, Sophomore

DE Cameron Smith, 6-2, 245, Sophomore

DE Tanner Rice, 6-2, 240, Sophomore

DE Elie Nabushosi, 6-4, 240, RS-Freshman

DE Brian Cramer, 6-4, 240, Freshman

DE Andrew McCleneghen, 6-6, 255, Sophomore

DE Jarvis Pruitt, 6-3, 220, RS-Freshman

DE Spencer Conley, 6-4, 255, Sophomore

NT Nick Reed, 6-1, 265, RS-Freshman

NT Gareth Riley-Ayers, 5-11, 285, Sophomore

NT Darrian Wright, 6-2, 290, Junior

Grade: C

Strengths: Potential, Athleticism

Weaknesses: Quality Depth, Experience

Synopsis:

Replacing all three starters along the defensive line will be a daunting task and considering most of these players are still young, it's going take at least a few games to find out which candidates are deserving of starting spots and time in the rotation. But there is some potential here and defensive line coach Bert Hill has had success with his group in the past.

It appears the frontrunners to start at defensive end are Barnes and Wood. Barnes, a former walk-on, is the most experienced of the group and has played well when given the opportunity and will more than likely stick as a full-time starter. Wood is still a question mark. The coaches seem to like him, but he hasn't been overly impressive at practices and will have to fight to secure his job.

Don't be surprised if Nabushosi and Pruitt supplant them with strong performances this spring. Both reshirted and bulked up their athletic frames this past season. Remember, Pruitt was a stud at Houston Stratford and Nabushosi played a little bit of everything at Frisco Heritage including quarterback. McCleneghan, a walk-on from Plano, is the tallest of the group and saw time as true freshman. He could very well open some eyes this spring, as could Spencer if he can finally get healthy.

Nose tackle is obviously the team's biggest concern. Nick Reed spent the entire year rehabbing last year while Riley-Ayers, another walk-on, is more of a practice punching bag than an actual threat to see action other than deep in garbage time. With that said, it's safe to assume the team is banking on Darrian Wright to be a dominant force in the trenches.

Can he do it? That should be answered this spring. Wright has some work to do, but he has the talent and size to replace Pittman without missing a beat. He had great stats coming out of a very solid 4A program in Texas and didn't do too bad of a job in limited action this season. Still, nose tackle should be a concern.

What To Watch For: Ends Sliding Inside

It's just difficult to fathom that SMU will only have a 3-man rotation at nose tackle this spring. Zelt Minor will probably end up playing here in the fall but for now, some of the ends will possibly be give a shot to earn some more time inside.

Air Force transfer Rice, brother of offensive lineman Sam Rice, was the Dallas Morning News Defensive Player of the Year just a couple of short years ago and if he adds a little weight, he could easily be play nose tackle. He had, however, been practicing at running back but is listed on the updated roster as a defensive lineman.

If Wood gets beaten out by one of the talented redshirts, he can slide inside and actually do very well there. In fact, Wood was ranked as one of the top 60 defensive tackles in the nation coming out of Rowlett and held a couple of BCS offers. Cameron Smith is a bit on the short side and has been injury prone, but he also has the size to slide inside. Not to mention, sources have been saying Smith is just too slow to be an end.

Another option that is rather logical is moving Rishaad Wimbley back to nose tackle. Sure, he did decent as a freshman at running back. But last year, he was out of shape and it's clear Traylon Shead is going to see almost every carry. Moving Wimbley back to his original position just seems to make too much sense.

Breakout Player: Elie Nabushosi

As stated, Nabushosi played quite a few different positions in high school and really showed off his athleticism early in fall camp last year before a shoulder injury set him back. Nabushosi ended up redshirting, and that really benefits him. He was an extremely raw prospect but proved he was capable of blossoming into a great defensive end. If Wood isn't careful, Nabushosi could take his spot with a strong spring performance.

Keep An Eye On: Andrew McCleneghen

At 6-foot-6, McCleneghen is a tower on the edge who has great strength and a nice motor. The fact that he got playing time as true freshman walk-on speaks volumes about his potential. In a spring where there are no guaranteed starters, McCleneghen could really shine and breakthrough. If he keeps improving on his technique and his first step, there is no reason why he won't be in the mix for a starting job. It was a tough call here so also keep an eye on Pruitt.

Predictions:

- Wood will slide inside and Nabushosi will get first team reps

- McCleneghen and Pruitt will shine on the second team

- Smith will also move inside

- Cramer won't be much of a factor after greyshirting

- Wimbley will move back to nose tackle

Pony Stampede Top Stories