It's amazing how much of a difference one year makes.
Last season, after the devastating injury to J.R. Richardson, the SMU secondary was left without one of it's most talented corners, and it showed, as early on in the season the Mustang defensive backs were torched game after game.
But this season, with Richardson back in the fold, the SMU secondary is ready to become the strength of the defense, so much so that Tom Mason has given up his star cornerback, Kenneth Acker, to June Jones and the SMU offense- at least for now.
At cornerback, the Mustangs return senior Chris Parks, who filled in for Richardson after he went down. Parks struggled early on last season against the likes of Baylor, Texas A&M, and TCU. But as SMU got into conference play, and Parks' hamstring healed, his play increased quite noticeably, and he became a decent corner.
With a season's experience under his belt, Parks will have to start the season much faster, as SMU opens up the season against quality quarterbacks.
Opposite Parks will be Richardson, who will get to see game play for the first time since his freshman year as a result of his torn ACL. Richardson looked great in practice's last year until he suffered his gruesome injury.
If Richardson is able to regain the confidence in his knee, and return his trademark swagger, he will have a chance to be a major sleeper in the AAC.
Behind Richardson and Parks, the Mustangs return plenty of experience at safety, in Jay Scott, Hayden Greenbauer, and Shakiel Randolph, all of who played major minutes last season.
Considering the injuries that occurred in the Mustang secondary last year, Scott played very well last year, and was, next to Acker, the most stable player in the Mustang secondary. This season, with a healthy surrounding cast around him, Scott should improve off an impressive junior season and become a leader in the SMU secondary.
Next to Scott is Greenbauer who played in all thirteen games last season, making his biggest splash in the Hawaii Bowl, when he returned an interception for a touchdown, tying the NCAA record for most pick-sixes in a season by a team.
Greenbauer will look to build off a sneaky good sophomore year that saw him force two fumbles and total 27 tackles in addition to the pick six. Greenbauer surprised some when he won the starting job over uber-athletic Randolph (more later) but is undeniably more athletic than most think: for starters, he was tabbed as the scout team quarterback and was a high school star at multiple positions and in track.
Randolph, who played well in relief of Ryan Smith, earned himself a spot on the Conference-USA All Freshman team. Randolph earned praises from the likes or Taylor Reed for his play last year, and may have more NFL potential than any other player in the secondary.
Pony Stampede Two-Deep:
Left Corner: 1. Chris Parks 2. Horace Richardson
Strong Safety: 1. Jay Scott 2. Shakiel Randolph
Free Safety: 1. Hayden Greenbauer 2. Daniel Roundtree
Right Corner: 1. J.R. Richardson 2. Ajee Montes
Others to watch: Jeremy Gray, A.J. Justice, Myles Crosby, Trey Washington
Fall Camp Preview: Defensive Backs
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