SMU head coach Chad Morris spoke on the American Athletic Conference teleconference to wrap up spring practice, talk quarterbacks, early signing period and more. Here's everything coach Morris had to say.
Q: Can you put a wrap on spring practices and where your team is at?
A: "We came out healthy and only a couple guys have to get healthy and we expect them back for summer workouts. This is a veteran football team. It's the third year in our system and our culture and everything has been established. We've got a lot of guys back that have played a lot of ball. With the returning core that we have and guys like Courtland Sutton, Justin Lawler and our backs, I definitely think that this team is trending in an upward position. We've had a really, really good spring and we're excited about the direction that we're heading.
"We didn't finish the year like we wanted. We had an opportunity to become bowl eligible. We had South Florida at our place and couldn't get it done and then the last game against Navy was not to our standard at all. Building on that and going into the offseason program, we've really stressed investing and spending. Investing time and spending time. It's been really good. I'm really excited about this football team. As we get ready to get back on the field in August, there's an excitement level that's building here." http://www.scout.com/college/southern-methodist/story/1772047-smu-on-the...
Q: What are your thoughts on the quarterback competition after reviewing the film? What are your thoughts on Ben Hicks and Rafe Peavey and then how do you see D.J. Gillins fitting in this fall?
A: "When you start looking at that, the disappointment of losing Matt Davis last year forced Ben into a position of having to play and maybe wasn't as ready as we thought and he thought early in the year. He progressed throughout the year. Moving on to the spring, Rafe Peavey, young man that transferred from University of Arkansas and had to sit out, and then was able to contribute in the spring. Then bringing in D.J. Gillins, one of the top junior college quarterbacks around and his dual-threat capabilities, I really think we have a battle going on at quarterback right now.
"I really thought coming out of spring, definitely the experience that Ben had kept him at the top, but Rafe made a big push as spring went so coming into fall I think there's going to be a great battle and I'm excited to see it."
Q: How narrow is that gap right now going into the summer and what do you want to see out of both of those guys?
A: "I want to see their leadership styles and capabilities heading into the third and fourth quarter phases of our offseason program. I think over the next 110 days, it's going to be critical to compete. D.J. Gillins is another one that's going to be figured into this mix. Ben right now is our starter, but it's great to have competition going on especially as we move into fall camp. I'm excited about it. A year ago when we lost Matt and Darrel, we only had one scholarship quarterback on campus and moved Collin Rock over in an emergency role while trying to redshirt him so there was a lot of things we had to battle behind the scenes. If we had lost Ben, it could have catastrophic from a season standpoint. Now we have three scholarship guys and a fourth one in the fall. It'll be interesting. It'll be fun to watch them grow and compete."
Q: Can you talk about the return of Courtland Sutton and what it means to have him back?
A: "A guy of his caliber, an All-Conference and All-American, and with his body size and only playing college football for two years, he needed to come back. He got his NFL grade back and it was a second round grade, I just shared with him that we coached a lot of receivers and put a lot of receivers in and you need another year to come back, mature and graduate from SMU in three and a half years. There's so much to gain from coming back and improving his draft status. The sky is the limit for him. His leadership and impact on and off the field is just huge for us."
Q: From Day 1 to now, what have you seen in improving the culture there?
A: "Well, the culture is in place. The players know it and they understand it. You don't have to look for to see what these guys are doing on and off the field. On the field, you look at the improvements we made from Year 1 to Year 2, off the field, these guys are graduating and every senior that pledged to me is on track to graduate in three and a half years. We've broken GPA marks and we've got the highest GPA in the history of SMU's football program each of the last three semesters. They know the expectations and you've seen it translate on the field and into the classroom. I'm really excited about what's trending.
"We were so close last year to getting this team bowl eligible. Obviously, took Tulsa into overtime and had an opportunity to win it in regulation and just couldn't do it, went to overtime and at that point, didn't realize how good Tulsa was — a 10-win team — coach has done a phenomenal job. And then South Florida here. We just didn't quite have it against two of the top teams in our conference. This will be the most talented SMU team they've had here in quite sometime. I know it will be in my tenure here, but when you start looking back over the last 8, 10, 12, 15 years, this will be one of the more talented teams SMU has put on the field. What does that mean? I don't know. We'll find out at the end, but I like where we're sitting."
Q: What does the addition of Charlie Strong do for USF and the American?
A: "When you look at our conference in general, it's kind of crazy to say that I've been in the conference for two years and me and Philip Montgomery are second in seniority behind Ken. That's kind of crazy. When you bring in Charlie, obviously know him very well, just his impact on the state of Florida, he's going to do great things. He's taking over a great situation with one of the premier quarterbacks in our conference right there. It adds validity to our conference that other programs are looking into our conference and finding what's next and up and coming teams. It just adds strength to the conference." http://www.scout.com/college/southern-methodist/story/1771736-post-sprin...
Q: What do you think of the new early signing period and will it have a positive impact for you?
A: "I think it will. We talk to our players and recruits about commitment all the time. It's more than just a word. Now with the early signing period, especially being in December, you've got an opportunity for guys to sign at that point. They've been committed and if they don't sign with you, then they never really were committed and it gives you an opportunity to move on. So much of this is building relationships to get these guys on board and signed to focus on the last part of their senior year. I like it.
"From a high school standpoint, it does hamstring some of those high schools that play deep into the playoffs if guys are taking official visits during state championships. That's one as a coaching staff that we will really be cognizant of and respect these high school coaches in the state and their playoff runs, but I'm excited about it and it's going to be good for college football."