Tap the Boulevard is an SMU Football Blog, A Beer Blog, A Baseball Blog, A Music Blog, basically a blog about everything that makes life worth living. So sit back, relax, crack a cold one and enjoy our incoherent ramblings and gratuitous movie quotes.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Back When Things Went Our Way

Hard to believe that there was a time when SMU caught breaks in a game, but there is video proof of it.

I was only 2 when that game was taking place, so unfortunately my only memories of SMU football prior to being a student are from the '90s on Fox Sports Southwest (and it's precursors Prime Sports and HSN) when SMU played brutal schedules and occasionally succeeded in scoring a few upsets under Tom Rossley.

You know the last two season have been rough when you look back on the '90s as halcyon days.

Friday, February 20, 2009

New Class, New Faces, New Positions...A Look at the New Class

On the first Wednesday of February, June Jones signed his second class of recruits to Letters of Intent to play football at SMU. The reviews of the class, the first one where Jones had an entire year to recruit, are generally positive with some writers going so far as to say this is the best class that SMU has signed in 20 years. Another reviewer said that this class is a severe disappointment because it was light on linebackers and defensive linemen and too heavy on defensive backs and 'project' offensive linemen.

Generally speaking, I think this is a solid class. It is comparable to Phil Bennett's best class in 2003. But I think what makes most individuals feel warm and fuzzy about this particular class is that June Jones--quite unlike Phil Bennett--has a proven ability to get the most out of a player's level of talent. A few players are steals: Joey Fontana, Darius Johnson, and Chris Atchison are all three considered excellent recruits that will fit well into the Run N' Shoot offense. June Jones also mentioned at his Signing Day Press Conference that Johnson--nickname, The Truth!--may also return punts. I also personally have high expectations for safety James Scott out of Houston Strake Jesuit (my high school's archrival!).

Here is my breakdown of the class:

Chris Atchison, Joey Fontana, Darius Johnson, Mike Loftus, James Scott, Ryan Clark, and Marquis Frazier are all players that enter SMU with high expectations. Frazier and Clark were JUCO teammates at Navarro College and both should start this fall. Frazier has been enrolled on the Hilltop since January and Clark--a Rivals 4 star recruit--will enroll this summer most likely. Frazier and his huge 6-4, 260 lb frame should be at either DT or DE for the season opener depending on the results of spring practice and how Tom Mason and company decide to re-align the defense (rumor is that the Mustangs will be switching from a 4-3 to a 3-4 but nothing has been confirmed yet). Clark will compete for time at safety right away and could supplant Rock Dennis.

With James Scott, I would not be surprised to see him red shirt but nor would I be surprised to see him get spot time, especially in nickel situations. He has great hands and size, and good enough speed to have played QB for Jesuit in 2008. June Jones has often said that he believes in putting the best talent on the field right away and if Scott proves himself in August practice, he could forego a red shirt year altogether. But because of the depth already extant in the secondary, he could just as easily take a red shirt and spend a year getting adjusted to college.

Atchison and Fontana are premiere offensive lineman. Atchison is a guard and Fontana can play anywhere on the line. Both have the skills to play right away, though Atchison could use some bulking up during the summer. Though the Mustangs offensive line played better than could have been expected in 2008, either Atchison or Fontana could challenge for playing time very soon particularly in running situations, the blocking for which was lamentably poor last year (which is part of the reason that the running game only netted 490 yards).

Mike Loftus is the heir apparent to the great Thomas Morstead. Loftus was graded in the top 10 of high school kickers in 2008 by ESPN and Scout and in the top 20 by Rivals. Loftus, however, will not be thrust into a starting role just yet. Kickoffs for next year will still likely be handled by Kellis Cunningham (who may also get time at safety in spring practice according to Jones...anyone who saw him level Memphis's kick returner last year knows why) and placekicking/punting duties will be handled by Matt Szymanski, who sat out 2008 after transferring to SMU from Texas A&M. In all likelihood, Loftus will red shirt and not even see the field in 2009. So Mustang fans should take heart that we will continue to be set at kicker "for 4-5 years" in the words of June Jones.

Finally, Darius "the Truth" Johnson out of Fort Bend Hightower should make it onto the field very quickly. Based on statements by Jones about Johnson's ability and talent, I would be extremely surprised not to see him starting in 2009 alongside Emmanuel Sanders and Aldrick Robinson. At 5-10, he has decent height, but will need to pack some more muscle onto his 160 lb frame in order to stand up to the more physical secondaries he will face in the NCAA. Johnson, with his great hands, blazing speed (he ran a 4.4 40), and excellent body control (see the one handed end zone grab he made in the state playoffs in 2008) will make a great target for Bo Levi Mitchell right away. He'll face a steep learning curve as the Run N' Shoot will be more complicated than any offense he has ever contemplated being a part of, but expect him to be a star for the Mustangs.

How does the rest of the class shape up? It is very light on defensive linemen and linebackers. Brandon Henderson and Braylon Williams are the only two high school lineman to have been signed and I would not be surprised to see either one of them gray shirt or red shirt. The Mustangs have little depth on defense, especially with the recent release of Anthony Sowe and the graduation of Serge Elizee and Patrick Handy. Moreover, Adrian Dizer had a terrible neck injury during the 2008 season and it is unknown if he will be able to return to football at all. Taylor Thompson has reportedly bulked up to 260 in the weight room since the end of the season and Evan Huahulu could see quite a bit of playing time at DT/NT. As mentioned previously, JUCO transfer Marquis Frazier will very likely start while Mickey Dollens will see more time as will Chris Parham. 2008 walk on (and Army veteran) Jesse Andrew could get on the field as well.

Margus Hunt, even with his 6-7, 280 lb frame and plaudits from Junes Jones (and JJ has been very free flowing with his praise), still has never put on pads or played a down of football in his life and so cannot be considered anything more than a project for the future at this point (he will have 4 years of eligibility). Justin Smart could move back to DE from outside linebacker, but this move is a wash as Youri Yenga is likely to move from DE to LB. So even with all of the unknowns surrounding the defensive line, I still expect both Williams and Henderson to sit out next year to develop physically and for Tom Mason's defense to rely on a strong, fast secondary for the foreseeable future.

Jones and his staff have, however, earmarked the defense as the area to focus on for 2010. This very day, SMU received its first commitment for the next recruiting cycle in the form of DT Michael O'Guin. O'Guin is already being called one of the best recruits that SMU has picked up in 20 years. It is early yet and players have been known to switch commitments, but this is a great start.

Other notable signees are Kyle Padron out of Southlake Carroll who provides much needed depth at QB, Beck Coulter, Deonte McDade, Chayse Joubert, Aron Franklin, Ben Hughes, and Jordan Favreau .

With Bo Levi Mitchell expected to start again, New Mexico State transfer J.J. McDermott sitting out 2009 per NCAA rules, Logan Turner and 2008 red shirt Winston Gamso transferring to other schools, only Braden Smith (who kept his red shirt intact throughout 2008) will be immediately available to back up. It will be interesting to see if Justin Willis is even listed on the depth chart as a QB after spring practice, but my feeling is that he will not be. I think June sees Willis solely as a receiver now and I cannot imagine Willis throwing the ball again outside of some sort of trick play. Additionally, with the emergence from the shadows of Michael Morse (who came in and got a couple of snaps in relief of Turner against Memphis last season) Padron will likely be red shirted, but I can see Jones not hesitating to burn the red shirt if the other QBs on the depth chart do not deliver.

McDade, Joubert, and Franklin are all receivers with excellent speed and athletic ability. Expect McDade to see the field in 2009 but Joubert and Franklin red shirting. With a decent amount of depth at WR between Sanders, Robinson, Bryant, Wilkerson, Medford (if he's fully recovered from his shoulder injury), E.J. Drewery (who did not lose his red shirt last year), and others there will not be a need to rush either one onto the field as was done with the Coles Loftin and Beasely.

Ben Hughes was listed by some writers as a potential heir at center to Mitch Enright, though I think it more likely that either Blake McJunkin--who performed admirably well as a slightly undersized true freshmen during the middle of the season--or Joey Fontana will eventually take over at center for Mitch Enright. Enright only played in 3 games due to a hand injury and so still has eligibility as he now pursues his MBA. It is rumored that Hughes has agreed to gray shirt along with Christian Miller, so the Ponies may not get their first glimpse of him until spring practice in 2010. Favreau is another lineman who has gained praise for his technique, if not his size. At 6-3 and 245, he has the height but not the weight he needs before he can effectively play guard at the NCAA level.

Beck Coulter is one of the most intriguing signees of the entire class. A late add to the commit list, Coulter hails from Pago Pago in American Samoa and was targeted early by recruiting extradonaire Jeff Reinebold. Coulter has decent size and great speed at linebacker (a place the Mustangs need immense help), but I have my doubts that he will be academically eligible to play. Coulter was forced to sit out his senior season in high school due to grades and if he has not found the ability to balance his time between football and class, it is unlikely that he will ever see the field as a Mustang. If he does, he will be a huge help to a linebacking corps that has struggled for two years and could, along with Evan Huahulu and new signee K.J. Vaifale, be the start of a great recruiting pipeline within the Samoan, Tongan, Polynesian communities.

Rounding out this recruiting class are LB's Byron Brown and Taylor Reed, OL's Christian Miller and Bryan Collins, DB's Kievon Gamble, JR McConico, Sterling Moore, K.J. Vaifale, and ATH's Ja'Gared Davis and Chris Frazier. Less is known about this group. Christian Miller is huge, 6-5 285, but apparently very raw and will need time to develop his technique. Byron Brown and Taylor Reed are the sort of quick, hard hitting LB's that June Jones, and by extension Tom Mason, have said they prefer, but what sort of impact either will have is difficult to predict. Any of this group could end up being a star as we have seen in the past and what positions each plays will slowly be sorted out in August practice. But until then, they are all wild cards with something to prove.

There will be a just as long post about positions and possible depth charts when spring practice starts in late March. More posts about subjects other than football will be coming in the next few days. Thanks for reading guys, don't forget to check back for updates.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

New Post Coming Soon

I intend to write very soon about the Mustangs new class of football recruits. Until then, this will have to suffice:

Thursday, February 12, 2009

It's Been Awhile

Hello there to the dedicated hangers on and those who have randomly found this blog (possibly while looking for porn) and have decided to keep reading out of boredom.

It was a busy several months between Halloween and, well, now. But I, Irwin Fletcher am back to talk beer, SMU, football, and whatever the hell else is on my mind. Let's get to it, shall we?

The 2008 football season did not end up quite how we in Mustang Nation had hoped. When June Jones became head coach on January 5, 2008, I think most observers expected or prayed for at least a 3-4 win season. If you go back to my season preview--which shouldn't take too long to find since we haven't written very many entries--you will see that I predicted, rather extravagantly a 5 win season. So what happened to cause another 1-11 season?

For starters, the defense simply could not stop the other team. It seems overly glib to say it like that, but the problem truly was as basic as that. Many fans called for the head of Defensive Coordinator Tom Mason, but one must consider that Mason, Tim Hundley, and Bert Hill just did not have much to work with. With the exception of Serge Elizee, who drew double teams from o-linemen all season, the other spots on the defensive line were a revolving door of players; some too small, some too slow, some not big enough to challenge his opposite number. Adrian Dizer and Anthony Sowe could not provide a fast pass rush from the end positions and neither held onto their starter slots either as Dizer was injured and Sowe was ineffective (and is now no longer with the team, more on that in a minute).

Youri Yenga, who continues to be the single most effective pass rusher than the Mustangs possess, quickly found a full time role at both end positions while true freshmen Taylor Thompson got lots of valuable playing time as well. Patrick Handy shared time with Mickey Dollens and others alongside Elizee at tackle. The result of this constantly changing cast? An inconsistent pass rush and an opposing quarterback with lots of time to make a pass.

The linebackers, with the exception of the reliable senior Will Bonilla, were a non entity. Unable to stop the rush and ineffective in nickel coverage, the linebacking corps had an undistinguished year.

Only the secondary, anchored by Derrius Bell and Bryan McCann at the corners with Rock Dennis and true freshman Chris Banjo at the safety positions, was oustanding as a unit. All four will be returning in 2009, though Bell is suspended per Conference USA rules for the first half of the first game next year for getting in a fight during the season finale against Southern Miss. Bell, McCann, Dennis, and Banjo will provide in 2009 the core of a powerful secondary which will include recent juco signee (and 4 star Rivals recruit) Ryan Clark and other promising prospects like Houston Strake Jesuit's James Scott. Derrick Odum has quite the stable of young players to form the Ponies' secondary into a force over the next couple of seasons.

What it all comes down to is the defense could not stop opponents in third down situations, could not pressure the quarterback, and could not read the run. The futility of this defense was best demonstrated against Houston when the Mustangs, with less than 90 seconds left and the Cougars with no timeouts, could not prevent Houston's offense from marching 60 yards down the field and scoring the game winning touchdown. If SMU is to return to bowl eligibility, that will have to change.

The offense, which had embarassing sputters at the beginning of the season, seemed to finally coalesce around Bo Levi Mitchell, Emmanuel Sanders, and Aldrick Robinson in the second half (the Navy game aside...I mean come on, that weather was ridiculous).

Lacking among the names I mentioned above was a running back. The Mustangs had an absolutely pathetic ground game in 2008 with only 490 yards gained on the entire season! Senior DeMyron Martin never found the magic that he had as a redshirt sophomore while B.J. Lee and Chris Butler struggled through injuries. Bryce Lunday showed streaks of greatness and he will be relied on next season along with Chris Butler if Miami transfer Shawnbrey McNeal does not receive his NCAA waiver to play in '09 and since B.J. Lee will likely become a full time kick returner (replacing the redoubtable Jessie Henderson, the all time NCAA leader in kickoff return yardage, who is graduating).

Bo Levi Mitchell showed fantastic growth in the second half the 2008 season. Starting in the Tulane game, fans could sense an attitude change in him. Bo Levi became crisper in his decisions, learned to scramble when no receivers were open (though not to stiff arm), and did not force passes. Injuring his throwing shoulder against Memphis effectively ended his season with two games left. It seems that June Jones and Mustang Nation both expect Bo Levi to benefit greatly with a year of the Run N Shoot under his belt and with most of his receiving corps still intact from 2008 and he should. There has never been any doubt of Bo Levi's arm, rather the question has been about his head: can he fully grasp June Jones's complex offense with it's multiple reads in a two step drop? June has a reputation as an excellent talent evaluator and if he believes that Bo has the ability to succeed in this offense, then I trust that judgment.

Emmanuel Sanders and Aldrick Robinson return for their senior and junior years respectively to be the focal point of June Jone's offensive attack. Both had career years in their first season in the Run N Shoot and with even more targets for Bo Levi Mitchell to be throwing to in 2009, the receiving corps is looking primed for another record setting campagin.

One of the surprises of the Mustangs 2008 season was the offensive line. Cobbled together by coach Dennis McKnight from a returning center (Mitch Enright) and Guard (Sean Lobo), combined with freshmen at guard and tackle (Beachum and Tennyson) and a converted tight end (Vincent Chase) at right tackle, the situation looked ripe for disaster. As events turned out, the line turned into one of the more consistently good units for the Mustangs. Enright was injured and replaced by true freshman Blake McJunkin who performed as well as could be expected in his situation and red shirt freshman Josh LeRibeus proved that he belongs as a starter. Beachum and Tennyson performed admirably and senior Tommy Poynter was a jack of all trades, filling in all over the line wherever needed. With the accumulation of talent and prospects, a pool of greyshirts will be built up that will join LeRibeus, Beachum, Tennyson, and promising recent signees Joey Fontana and Chris Atchison in a couple of years to form a powerful front line for Bo Levi Mitchell and the running backs.

So what does the future hold? Yesterday, 9 football players found out that that future did not include them. The players--CB De'Von Bailey, LB Taylor Bon, RB Ben Goldthorpe, LB Julian Herron, DE Jordan Johnson, CB Deyon McElroy, LB Alex Odiari, OL Andrew Robiskie, and previously mentioned DE Anthony Sowe--were all informed that their scholarships were not being renewed for 2009 due to academic and disciplinary reasons. Anyone who doubts that June Jones does not want to clear out anyone who he sees as not being a positive impact on this program should reread that list of players. Bailey and McElroy were highly prized recruits out of high school as was LB Herron. Alex Odiari was a high profile transfer from Oklahoma State--symbolizing the type of player that SMU was open to enrolling for the first time since the Death Penalty--and who was expected to provide a physical presence at linebacker. But Odiari never found his footing with the defensive coaches and saw very limited time in 2008.

There has been much said since the end of last season about the culture within the football program. In a widely circulated quote, June Jones remarked that he had never seen a weight room as empty during off hours as that in Ford Stadium. This statement openly questioned the commitment of some upperclassmen who it has been felt have become accustomed to and even okay with losing. Around the same time, another widely publicized quote by Bo Levi Mitchell indicated the he, as the team's starting quarterback, was not ok with the contented attitude of some upperclassmen. Such comments, and the subsequent actions by Coach Jones mentioned above, belie a new sentiment for SMU football. Mitchell was the starting quarterback for the 4A State Champion Katy Tigers in 2007-08 and has made it clear that he has brought that winning attitude with him to the Hilltop. It is thrilling, as a fan of SMU football, to see a salient figure make his voice heard so loudly in regards to the team's discipline and attitude towards success. One can only hope that it bodes well for the future.

Well, with that I will call it a post friends. Very soon (perhaps Friday) I will post about the Mustangs newest class of signees and how they could impact the team in 2009 and beyond. More frequent updates will begin again, I promise. So please return for more SMU football, baseball, beer, and perhaps even some politics!

Until next time, Pony Up!