SMU's defensive unit made up for an off-day during Wednesday's practice with a banner effort in Thursday morning's three-hour-plus workout.
One day after coaches scolded the defense for its lack of intensity and execution, the stop crew got the best of their offensive counterparts in their regular drills and a 30-minute scrimmage that ended practice. The scrimmage, played under semi-contact conditions without full tackling, was SMU's first of the preseason.
"We had a set-back day yesterday, but came back today and played real well" junior safety Rock Dennis said following Thursday's practice. "The chemistry that we have on defense is going great, and it allows us to communicate better on the field. That's what showed out there today."
Tyler Jones (twice), John Nwisienyi, and Bryan McCann each came up with interceptions during the normal workout segments, and the first-team defense had little trouble stopping the unit that served as a scout-team offense.
"It's all getting easier to us," Dennis said. "We're picking up stuff faster, which allows the coaches to keep adding things in chunks for us. Then it's just repetition."
Derrius Bell had one of the highlight plays of the morning, knocking a ball out of the hands of Cole Loftin in the end zone on a 7-on-7 drill. It would have been a lethal hit from Bell had they been working in full-contact conditions. Nonetheless, it was a fine play by the sophomore cornerback.
McCann had the other highlight pick, a one-handed grab in the corner of the end zone on a fade route that left him just enough time to get a foot down for the touchback.
The first unit on the field as SMU's top defense worked against the scout offense had Anthony Sowe (left side) and Adrian Dizer (right side) lined up at defensive ends with Patrick Handy and Serge Elizee inside at tackle. Justin Smart was at middle linebacker flanked by Pete Fleps (left side) and Jason Jackson (right side). Bell and McCann played on the corners, and Jones and Dennis were back at safety.
Dennis said the secondary's goal is to have SMU in the top 20 defensive teams against the pass. The Mustangs were #116 in pass defense last season.
"We've got two potential shut-down corners out there," he said. "Tyler Jones burst on the scene last year, but late. He didn't get a chance until late in the season. We have the ability to be that good. Everyone knows you have to defend the pass in this league."
Other notes from Thursday's morning's workout:
Workouts twice as niceThis was the third two-a-day practice of SMU's preseason. The afternoon sessions was closed to the public, as will be Saturday's afternoon session from 3:30 – 5 p.m. The Mustangs practice from 8:30 – 11:30 a.m. on Friday.
Game officials work at practiceA full crew of officials were in uniform working the morning practice. They too are looking to get back in the groove, and worked on their positioning during the first segments of the practice. A few flags flew during the scrimmage as the officials became reacquainted with the speed of the game. It's been a busy week so far for side judge Scott Marshall, who has already officiated in practices at Oklahoma State (twice), Tulsa, and Baylor, and heads to Marshall for another next week.
Workout highlightsThere's still no word on who SMU's starting quarterback will be. Head coach June Jones said "everything will be in place" by Saturday, and the coaches will begin putting in the game plan for Rice on Monday. Expect a decision during the weekend. Observing practice had Logan Turner executing another nice day, especially during 7-on-7 drills with a few bullets for short-yardage touchdowns. His favorite target appeared to be Cole Loftin, who caught one rope off his back shoulder in between two defenders. Zach Zimmerman also made some nice grabs. Andrew McKinney showed he can expect to be a part of the offense on two plays during the scrimmage. He bulled ahead for seven yards on a shuttle pass at the start of the scrimmage, then two plays later ran over Chris Castro for a six-yard gain. Cole Beasley made a fingertip catch along the left sideline for a big gain in the scrimmage, and nice complement to his laid-out snag in the back of the end zone during 7-on-7 drills. E.J. Drewery went up and over a defender for a 20-yard gain tip-toeing the right sideline. It's easy for Drewery, a true freshman, to do with his 6-6 frame.
Tip Drill, Part IAn offensive lineman's dream is to score a touchdown during his career. This play didn't reach the end zone, but redshirt freshman Bryce Tennison became a receiver on one play after grabbing a four-times-batted ball out of the air. Put Tennison down for one catch and four yards gained on the heads-up play.
Tip Drill, Part IIYou can tell the SMU coaches have been hammering technique into the players' heads. On another batted ball during 7-on-7 drills, a tip that had hang time enough to make punter Thomas Morstead jealous, Tyler Jones leaped up for the ball in traffic to make an interception. Had he waited for the ball to fall to him, others would have been able to make a play on the ball.
Visit from a former AggieFormer Texas A&M coach Jackie Sherrill was a visitor to Thursday's workout. Sherrill, who markets his Game On Sports Nutrition drink full-time now while also doing a few on-air bits, spent most of his time watching the linemen work out before taking in the scrimmage from the sidelines. He spoke briefly with June Jones after the scrimmage.
Other briefs:The entire team takes part in the special teams drills each day. Going without full contact wasn't an issue for McKinney on one play, where instead of hitting the return man, Zimmerman, he just grabbed some jersey and slung the junior receiver to the ground. . . . SMU players don't waste any time in transition during practices. They barely have time to catch their breaths as coaches insist they hustle around the practice fields ready for the next segment of practice. It's a stark difference from practices in previous years.