Matt Visinsky

What We Learned: Second SMU Spring Scrimmage

SMU had its second spring scrimmage and final one before the April 16 spring game. Here are some observations heading into the final week of spring practice.

Ben Hicks will have an extended chance to prove himself

Going into Saturday’s practice, Chad Morris wanted to get Ben Hicks a lot of snaps. He said afterward that Matt Davis had slightly more snaps and he wanted to even it out between the two while still getting Darrell Colbert some work. 

After an up-and-down first scrimmage, Hicks was more consistent Saturday. He did throw an interception to Cedric Lancaster when he threw behind a receiver on a curl route. It looked like a miscommunication between quarterback and receiver. He later threw an interception in the flat when walk-on Christian Burks read a flat route and jumped it. Hicks’ accuracy was much, much better. He threw a touchdown to walk-on Austin Rolfe on a well-placed ball over the middle that Rolfe then ran about 45 yards with to score. 

With Matt Davis out for the rest of the spring, Hicks will have an extended chance to potentially take a hold on the starting job entering camp. Morris likely won’t name a leader after next week’s spring game, but Hicks can be the guy to beat with a strong final week. Darrell Colbert will get some snaps too. He had another solid week, avoiding mistakes but not wowing anyone. He threw a couple deep balls that lacked great placement and velocity. 

Davis had another good day. He underthrew a couple short passes but displayed good accuracy for most of practice. His touchdown pass to Myron Gailliard on a fade route was his best throw. Gailliard turned around back toward the ball and jumped, and it was placed perfectly, above the defender who didn’t get turned around in time.

Receivers Honey, Rolfe get extended snaps

Kevin Thomas was suspended and Courtland Sutton sat out with an injury, as a precaution. Alex Honey got a lot of snaps at Sutton’s 9-man spot, unsurprisingly. He’s getting a lot of work there since he will be Sutton’s primary backup and has the length SMU wants at its 9-man. 

Honey had a so-so day with the increased attention. A Matt Davis pass went off his hands in the air and was intercepted. It looked like he tried to catch it with stiff arms. He couldn’t haul in some deep shots and contested catches. He had one sideline fade where he turned around and appeared to pull a ball in over a defender, but could not control it to the ground. His ball skills aren’t on Sutton’s level, but that’s a high standard of comparison. Honey wouldn’t have so many contested catches down the field if he could separate a little better. He isn’t quite as physical as Sutton off the line or at the catch point. He separates with his long strides, but needs use more than that.

Rolfe got a lot of snaps in Thomas’ absence. Quarterbacks weren’t afraid of throwing to him at all. He had around 5 or 6 catches, but it felt like he was targeted at least 10 times. Morris said afterward Rolfe impressed him and earned the snaps he got. Morris said that when the staff watched his high school film, he stuck out and made the staff wonder “who’s that guy?” in a good way. Don’t be surprised if Rolfe has a solid spring game.

All Jeremiah Gaines at tight end

The rising senior is back to wearing No. 84 and he got a large majority of snaps at tight end, with Dylan Dickman also working in. Gaines looked more agile and moved well. He tiptoed the sideline for 20 yards after catching a pass. He caught a touchdown from Davis in the red zone on a post route. On one screen, he moved all the way out to the perimeter to throw a good block. Blocking, especially outside, was a struggle for him at times last year. He caught a pass over the middle and took an immediate hit from Darrion Richardson but held on for a catch. Gaines’ spot coming out of spring feels pretty safe, especially if his blocking keeps improving. 

Corey Rau has a chance to earn a lot of early snaps behind (or with) Gaines. Rau may have the fastest route to playing time among all the freshmen, especially if Hunter Herndon can’t get healthy. SMU doesn’t want to have only one tight end in the rotation and sometimes plays two tight end sets. Rau’s agility, speed and blocking for the position are impressive.

Linebackers coming along

Linebacker has the least depth among the 2016 class’ defensive groups, so the spring is especially important for the current guys to show something.  Anthony Rhone said after practice that the linebackers are way better than they were at the beginning of the spring. That’s a good sign, but if that wasn’t the case, it’d be concerning considering the amount of improvement the group needs to make after last year. Matt McNew played a lot of snaps Saturday and moved pretty well. He took on Aphonso Thomas head-on up the middle and stopped him after Thomas had gained about 4 yards. He got out in space for a couple tackles too. It’s important that he develops, but he’s off to a solid start. Jackson Mitchell donned a yellow jersey and didn’t practice Saturday. 

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