SMU lost four defensive starters from 2014, but even returning starters can’t be assured of a spot after last season’s 1-11 disaster. Here’s Pony Stampede’s way-too-early look at 2015’s possible depth chart on defense. (Remember, some of the players listed here could be roster casualties or transfers as SMU trims the roster to 85).
Defensive end (2 starters)
Departures: Beau Barnes
SMU is switching to a four-man front, so positions along the defensive line won’t become clearer until spring practice. Wood is the most likely starter. He doesn’t have elite speed or pass-rush moves, but his size (6-foot-3, 260 lbs.) and run-stopping ability will help SMU mask its size and personnel deficiencies at defensive tackle. Michael Scott should be an immediate contributor as a freshman at the 7-technique thanks to his speed off the edge. He’s primarily a pass rusher, so he probably won’t start or play on running downs right away. Seals makes the switch from 3-4 outside linebacker because of his pass rushing ability, although he needs to be consistent and show improvement against the run. A little extra weight couldn’t hurt. Freshmen Delontae Scott and Hunter Thedford could redshirt while they add more weight and work on improving their technique. But one thing to remember is that Chad Morris said redshirts won’t be determined until late in training camp.
Defensive tackle (2 starters)
Departures: Darrian Wright
This is the most glaring weakness on SMU’s roster. Gentry kicks inside because his size is needed there. Minor is the most talented player of the group, and as long as he has the drive, he will be the unit’s most productive player. He should transition nicely to a 3-technique in the four-man front. Hollie and Saena are space eaters, but aren’t the quickest or the most experienced. They have been discussed around here as roster cut possibilities, but at such a thin position, a cut may not be the right move. The incoming freshman class featured no defensive tackles, so the already thin position didn’t get any better.
Linebacker (2 starters)
Linebacker saw a lot of turnover and the loss of the defense’s best player, Sanders. With three freshmen coming in and a lot of players returning, this is a wide-open race. Both jobs are up for grabs and anyone who plays well could get one. Horton was limited by a series of injuries in 2014, but he has good size and looked good when he was healthy. Austin Corbett is a tackling machine and should see time right away as a freshman. Fellow freshman Matt McNew could redshirt, as his downhill style is comparable to Ngalo’s and Tuiasosopo’s. But if linebacker sees attrition, McNew should get a good look. Mitchell Kaufman’s athleticism would be helpful, but he is a redshirt candidate since he’s played only two years of football.
Departures: N/A (position did not exist in 2014)
As a new position, this is the hardest to project. Williams was recruited specifically to play the star and has the skill to play right away, so he tentatively sits atop the depth chart. Kyran Mitchell is here because he’s too small to be a true linebacker in the 4-2-5. The rest of the depth chart here will come from other players moving positions. Jonathan Yenga moving to the star is a real possibility. He’s on the smaller side for a 4-2-5 LB as well. Shakiel Randolph is a longer shot to move here, but still a possibility. Williams should see plenty of competition for his spot, but who provides it is the question here.
Departures: Hayden Greenbauer
The safety spots are interchangeable at this stage. Randolph moves back to his natural safety spot after he was force to play corner because of injury last season. His limitations in coverage should restrict him to strong safety though. Justice saw decent snaps last season and should be in the mix. Halverson played receiver in 2014 but should move to defensive back, where he’s played before. Courtland Sutton played safety in high school and could move back due to SMU’s influx at receiver. Greenbauer was a leader in the secondary in 2014 and will be missed.
Departures: Myles Crosby, Trey Washington
Richardson had arguably the best training camp of any player last year and showed well during the season at times. He could move to strong safety, but has coverage ability to play free safety. The underrecruited Clemons was a steal for SMU. He’s a converted wide receiver with range who can be a ball-hawking presence in center field. He prides himself on his ball skills and pre-play diagnosis, which he learned when he played receiver. The freshman should get a long look. Montgomery can play both safety and corner and figures to do the same in 2015. Halverson could play at free safety too. Crosby and Washington were not major players, so they aren’t a big loss.
Cornerback (2 starters)
This is the other spot where SMU probably wishes it signed a player or two. Luckily, Montes is a solid player against the run and pass, and Horace Richardson came on strong at the end of last season. J.R. Richardson has struggled to stay healthy throughout his career and just isn’t as complete as the other two. The depth at corner will be helped by some wide receivers flipping to defense, most notably Jordan Ingram. His sub-4.4 speed but smaller stature would fit nicely as a slot corner. Jordan Wyatt should be a decent slot man too. Jeanlys redshirted as a freshman, but he impressed in practice with the second team/scout team and could be a decent backup corner. Montgomery and Halverson could see time at corner too. And if SMU wants to get big and physical at corner, Sutton playing corner could happen.