After being out at training camp for the first day last Thursday, I wanted to take a few minutes to talk about a few things to watch as training camp unfolds before Hatts picks his top training camp battles to watch tomorrow.
The Best "Group" Will StartWhen your talent level is just not where it needs to be along the offensive line, you've got to get creative. That's what offensive coordinator Joe Craddock and offensive line coach Dustin Fry will work together on for the majority of training camp. You've got guys like Kris Weeks, who have stepped up big time and changed everything about their game in order to be ready to compete, but where will you fit them in? A group of us talked on Thursday and there's one thing that I mentioned that I've always believed in. It's about finding that best group for your offensive line.
That term group goes for on and off the field, which could be why you see some guys playing out of position come Week 1. Kris Weeks now seems like a sure-fire starter after he blew away all of the coaches this summer. Weeks is projected to start at offensive tackle now by me, but that doesn't mean Bryce Wilds can't slide inside and play right guard. That's something to watch for by Week 1, but with limited access, we won't know too much.
Chauncey Briggs will be your starter at left tackle, but at left guard and center, it's cloudy in my books. Taylor Lasecki and William Barns will see the field in someway, which could delay Wilds seeing the field. The staff loves both of them, but who's the better fit and where? Having Barns at center will mean communication will have to really be emphasized if you're going to move a player with as much experience as Lasecki to guard. Lasecki at center and Barns at left guard would allow Barns to work between two veterans and develop his chemistry while not having to worry about making the calls. That same thing goes for Wilds. Tackle is a lonely place and I'd like SMU's offensive line much better if the veteran at center would win out.
I like Evan Brown's game and Braylon Hyder dropped a ton of weight, but both are coming off of injuries. Daniel McCarty is another name to watch, but I thought he was a big liability last year and got blown up a lot. With the new S&C program and other factors, I don't think you'll see that as much, but this is about having the most talent on the field that SMU can squeeze out of its offensive line group. It's a tough challenge, but when you find the right group chemistry-wise, that improves results on the field.
Will there be a pass rush this year?SMU had Zach Wood leading the way with four sacks last year. After that, Jonathan Yenga and Mason Gentry had two each. Needless to say, SMU had very little pressure on opposing quarterbacks all season even with an elaborate blitzing defense like Tom Mason's that featured a lot of zone blitzes and delays to confuse opposing linemen.
SMU needs to find some ends that are productive in rushing the passer or this defense will fall on its face I believe. The staff is shoring up the pass rush with guys like Robert Seals headed to defensive end and bringing in Michael and Delontae Scott as defensive ends. Elle Nabushoshi also looked bigger on the first day of practice and is athletic enough to potentially make an impact. These are options opposite of Zach Wood to provide a true pass rush.
Along the interior, the thing I'm most excited about is the ability for SMU to now have options at the 1-technique and 3-technique to provide pressure. Unlike having a traditional nose tackle, SMU's defensive tackles will be asked to rush the passer. Guys like Zelt Minor, Deon Green, Mason Gentry and Andrew McCleneghen will be asked to collapse the pocket and be aggressive. That's where I like SMU's strength to be this season. Green is unproven as are the rest of the interior guys, but the rotation could be productive. These players are sliding in more to natural positions rather than sit back and take up blocks.
Wood is the hardest worker and the leader of this defensive line, but the defense needs the interior guys to really lead the way in creating havoc in the passing game. Otherwise, video game passing numbers might still be a thing this year.