Perhaps the biggest question mark heading into fall camp for SMU is the defensive line.
The Mustangs lose all three starters from last year's team including second round NFL draft pick Margus Hunt. Inexperience currently defines this group, but there is plenty potential, especially at defensive end.
Beau Barnes and Zach Wood are expected to be the two starters on the edge and although both still have a lot to prove, they've shown flashes of talent during practice.
Barnes missed all of spring with a shoulder injury, which could be quite a setback. But he has a tremendous work ethic that could help him overcome all the missed reps.
The former walk-on earned a scholarship just before the start of last season and got into the rotation, recording 16 tackles and a sack. Barnes spent most of his sophomore year behind second round NFL draft pick Margus Hunt. So there no doubt, he has some big shoes to fill, literally.
Even though most fans are left with the lasting memory of Hunt's dominant Hawaii Bowl performance, his regular season statistics during his time on the Hilltop were average. Although he won't have the same kind of intimidation factor, Barnes can easily be as productive as Hunt was.
What could hold him back, however, is an increase in the amount of times defensive ends rotate. Fellow walk-on Andrew McCleneghen is expected to see his fair share of reps after getting in the mix as a true freshman.
The 6-foot-6, 262-pounder definitely has the size to be a factor and started in place of Barnes in the spring. If he can improve his technique, McCleneghen could develop into Margus Hunt 2.0.
Wood will line up opposite of Barnes or McCleneghen. A former three-star prospect out of Rowlett, Wood has great strength but must improve on his quickness and speed off the edge. If he can do the latter, Wood may be an improvement over Kevin Grenier.
With that said, he's going to have continue to impress defensive line coach Bert Hill, who praised him often in the spring, if he wants to fully secure his starting job because behind him is an animal waiting to be unleashed.
Elie Nabushosi wasn't the most highly touted recruit coming out of high school, but his athleticism was undeniable. Nabushosi played everything from defensive end to quarterback at Frisco Heritage and caught the eye of defensive coordinator Tom Mason.
Nabushosi, whose cousin is linebacker Jonathan Yenga, comes from a football family and spent his freshman year adding more bulk to his frame and polishing his technique. With a year under his belt at the college level, Nabushosi is poised to break out and make an impact.
If Nabushosi can grow up quickly, it wouldn't be surprising to see him take over as the starter while Wood transitions inside. Remember, Wood was an interior defensive lineman in high school, and the Mustangs have absolutely no depth at nose tackle.
Speaking of the middle, SMU only has three nose tackles listed on the roster. If starter Darrian Wright goes down with an injury, it could spell big trouble for the Ponies. And Wright is still an unknown himself, having spent last season backing up Torlan Pittman. In limited time, he did do well with 12 tackles and an interception return for a touchdown.
Behind Wright are Nick Reed and walk-on Gareth Riley-Ayers, who is more of a practice punching bag than a threat to earn playing time. Reed is the definite backup but has made the training room his new home.
Last season, he was sidelined with injuries and redshirted and in high school, he suffered a broken foot and separated shoulder, which is not what you want to hear when talking about a ‘reliable' reserve.
The wild card in this picture is incoming freshman Zelt Minor, who is one of, if not, the top defensive player to sign with SMU in the June Jones era. Minor is listed as a defensive end but also played defensive tackle at Houston Lamar and could easily lineup inside for the Mustangs. Minor is a force to be reckoned with and already has the frame to make an impact as a true freshman.
However this shakes out, it will be pivotal for this group to jell together quickly in order to avoid being run all over in non-conference play.
Pony Stampede Two-Deep:
LDE: 1. Beau Barnes 2. Andrew McCleneghen
NT: 1. Darrian Wright 2. Nick Reed
RDE: 1. Zach Wood 2. Elie Nabushosi
Others to watch: Jarrett Spencer, Zelt Minor, Cameron Smith, Tanner Rice
Fall Camp Preview: Defensive Line
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