Dallas Colleges: Kevin Pope
2012 record: 7-6
2012 conference record: 5-3, C-USA West
Returning starters: Offense: 6; defense: 6; kicker/punter: 2
QB Garrett Gilbert, WR Der'rikk Thompson, DB Kenneth Acker, LB Randall Joyner
RB Zach Line, WR Darius Johnson, DE Margus Hunt, LB Ja’Gared Davis
2012 statistical leaders (*returners)
Rushing: Line (1,278 yards, 13 TDs)
Passing: Gilbert* (268-of-506 for 2,932 yards, 15 TDs, 15 INTs)
Receiving: Jeremy Johnson* (679 yards, 3 TDs)
Tackles: Taylor Reed (97)
Sacks: Hunt (eight)
Interceptions: Acker*, Joyner* Reed (three each)
1. Garrett Gilbert looks sharp. Coach June Jones said after spring practice wrapped up that he was pleased with the way Garrett looked and improved in the biggest area of all -- accuracy. Gilbert only completed 53 percent of his passes last year but has a better grasp of the offense now and more chemistry with his receivers. It probably helps that he had Hal Mumme working with him, too.
2. Traylon Shead steps up. The Mustangs lost their best offensive player in Zach Line, but Shead stole the show this spring as he worked his way up to the first team. Jones called the Texas transfer “the real deal,” and is confident the running game will be just fine with Line gone.
3. Linebacker depth. Reed and Davis are gone, but there is depth at this position and some veterans returning to the starting lineup, too, in Joyner and Kevin Pope. Jones said Joyner had a great camp, and so did Lincoln Richard. Rishaad Wimbley moved over from running back as well.
1. Pass-rush specialist. Defensive end Margus Hunt proved just how special a talent he is this past weekend, when he was drafted in the second round. So how do the Mustangs go about replacing him and their other starting end, Kevin Grenier? Finding another pass-rush specialist takes on even greater importance now that the team is moving to a new league.
2. Offensive line depth. The Mustangs have to replace three starters and are going to be much more inexperienced at this position. Though Jones feels confident with his starting five, depth still has to be built in the fall. True freshmen may have to be relied on this season.
3. Receiver rotation. Jeremy Johnson and Thompson are back, along with Keenan Holman but otherwise, there are some young faces that are going to find themselves getting much more playing time. Line was also a big part of the pass game. Can Shead fill that role now?
Why: The Mustangs lose Ja'Gared Davis and Taylor Reed following a 2012 campaign that saw the former notch first-team All-Conference USA honors and the latter garner second-team honors. That's 174 total tackles, 25.5 tackles for loss, 10.5 sacks, five interceptions, four fumble recoveries and four forced fumbles between the two that are gone from last year's team. Kevin Pope and Robert Seals figure to be the next in line to replace the two, with Pope playing in all 13 games as a junior last season and recovering three fumbles, forcing another and blocking a kick. Seals, meanwhile, saw limited action as a redshirt freshman in 2012, recording three tackles and a quarterback hurry in eight games. SMU is replacing five starters up front from a defense that led Conference USA against the run last season, and coach June Jones will be tasked with quite the reloading job heading into Year 1 of the Big East era.
Spring Start: March 25
Spring game: April 20
What to watch:
- Replacing Zach Line: The Mustangs have to replace their top runner over the past several seasons in Line, who had three straight 1,000-yard seasons. Leading the charge this spring are junior college All-American Traylon Shead and reserve back Rishaad Wimbley, who switched from defense a few seasons ago.
- New defensive starters: The Mustangs lost the bulk of their playmakers on defense in Margus Hunt and linebackers Taylor Reed and Ja'Gared Davis. Finding guys to step up without them is a huge priority. Watch for Zach Wood at defensive end in place of Hunt; and Kevin Pope and Robert Seals at linebacker.
- More consistency at QB: June Jones' offense runs best when the quarterback is at his best. Garrett Gilbert returns as the starter, but he is going to need to find much more consistency this spring and into the fall. Two numbers that have to be improved: accuracy (53 percent in 2012) and touchdown-to-interception ratio (15-to-15 in 2012).
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