Matt Visinsky

What We Learned: First SMU Spring Scrimmage

The last time fans saw SMU in a game setting, the Mustangs took a 63-0 thumping at Memphis. Saturday, fans, recruits and media had a chance to see SMU in its first game-like setting since then, in a team scrimmage. Here are some observations of what we learned from the scrimmage.

The quarterback battle is going to last, but Davis still looks the best

Head coach Chad Morris has expressed his satisfaction with the quarterback battle all spring. This isn’t the type of battle that a team that just lost its starter would hold. The coaches want consistency from the quarterback position and want to give every guy a chance to show that consistency. While Matt Davis returns for his senior season and helped SMU’s offense vastly improve from 2014 to 2015, he struggled throwing the ball later in the year. In his final six games, he threw 5 touchdowns and 5 interceptions with a 47 percent completion rate, a drop-off from 11-2-60 in his first six.

Morris said Saturday that no one has shown the consistency on a week-to-week basis yet, but admitted Davis looked the best on Saturday. He didn’t wow anyone and missed on a couple underneath throws, but avoided ugly mistakes. Ben Hicks had a bad start before settling down and throwing three touchdowns, showing much better accuracy and decision-making. In his poor start, Hicks had five straight misses at one point. He missed low, high and to both sides, a couple times on some pretty routine throws no more than 10 yards past the line of scrimmage. On an interception over the middle, he telegraphed his read and threw a high and wide ball right into a safety’s hands.

Morris said he won’t officially name a starter until right before the opener at North Texas, but Davis still feels like a good bet to be that guy. Morris will give Hicks and Darrell Colbert every chance and there is still a lot of time left, but that’s where it looks at the moment. 

Proche, Honey keep pushing at wide receiver

Morris had mentioned James Proche II in every spring press conference. He’s the breakout player to watch in the spring game and heading into the season. As long as he learns to run upfield instead of dancing around with the ball, he looks like the starter in the slot if the coaches had to name one today. He has also fielded a lot of punts. Alex Honey is working at the 9-man spot behind Sutton. SMU isn’t afraid to take shots down the field with him. He has grown into his frame nicely and still has room to add more weight. His ball skills aren’t on Sutton’s level, but he is a difficult matchup with his big frame. Elsewhere at wide receiver, Xavier Castille dealt with some injuries early but he’s playing a little at both the 5-man and slot. Kevin Thomas flashed his ability on a long catch and run touchdown from Hicks. He reached out to grab a ball over the middle with a safety closing in, turned upfield and outran three defensive backs for about 40 yards to the end zone. He needs to mature and cut down the missed assignments, and the consistent production will follow. Shelby Walker got most of his reps at the 5-man, Ryheem Malone in the slot and Myron Gailliard in the slot.

Offensive line keeps shuffling

Most of the reps Davis took came with Chad Pursley, Travis FisterEvan Brown, Jerry Saena and Chauncey Briggs as the line combo. Bryce Wilds worked at right tackle at times with that group, Briggs also played at guard and junior college transfer Rex Pritz played all along the interior line. Braylon Hyder was in a yellow non-participant jersey, as was Keaton Bates. Pursley is getting the best reviews from the staff and looks like the best of the bunch right now, but Morris said he has liked Brown’s play at center after switching from guard. Those two feel like pretty good bets to open the season as starters, but the rest of the group looks like it will be pretty open at the start of fall camp. 

Defensive line and secondary need the freshmen for depth

Morris noted defensive end Justin Lawler's development as a leader and his strong “first quarter” in the weight room on the first day of spring ball. Opposite him, Jarvis Pruitt is getting a lot of reps. Morris mentioned him as a senior who needs to step up. Zelt Minor shed the yellow jersey on Saturday and beat Fister for a sack. With immediate-impact interior linemen Ken McLaurin and Jacob Williams arriving this summer, plus Chris Biggurs getting a lot of time on the interior, Minor needs a strong spring. Getting healthy was a good start. Even if Minor and Pruitt can step up like Morris wants them to, this is a spot where freshmen can get a fair amount of early snaps. 

Morris called the secondary “consistently inconsistent” Saturday. He said he’s expecting the freshmen to really push for snaps here because there are so many of them in the secondary and SMU lost three seniors who played significant snaps. William Jeanlys, Jesse Montgomery, Jordan Wyatt and Cedric Lancaster are getting most of the cornerback snaps. Montgomery had one play where he stayed right with Honey on a go route, flipping his hips around quickly and deflecting a pass. Kevin Johnson, Darrion Richardson and even Rashaad Burton played a lot at safety. Richardson’s experience (22 straight starts) helps him, but plenty of opportunity exists here for the freshmen come August. Horace Richardson and Rodney Clemons did not get to do contact work.


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