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Notes and observations from Spring Game

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Notes and observations from Spring Game

Postby PonyPride » Sat Apr 15, 2023 1:24 pm

The Mustangs wrapped up their spring workouts with the annual spring "game" — played this year at Highland Park High School because of the construction going on at SMU's Gerald J. Ford Stadium. The "scrimmage" consisted of four periods, each lasting just eight minutes — the first two played with regular timing rules, the last two with a running clock.

Little, if any, of the evening involved projected starters facing off against starters on the other side of the ball. So considering that the team's best players rarely faced each other, and the fact that while this spring is more physical than many in recent years, tackling was a little more physical than past springs, it was hard to get an accurate reading on too many things.

But that doesn't mean there was nothing notable, including:

• Several players, including RB Camar Wheaton, G Justin Osborne, WR Dylan Goffney and DE Braeden Flowers, sat out of the scrimmage with injuries. Head coach Rhett Lashlee said that Wheaton's absence was due to injury, not the academics that earned him a brief suspension at the start of spring workouts, and that if SMU had to play today, Wheaton would have been available. WR Teddy Knox went down during the scrimmage but looked fine afterward. RB Zane Minors got buried under a pile of several defenders late in the scrimmage and stayed down — when he was helped from the field, he he had one arm pinned to his chest, and left the stadium with a big bag of ice on his shoulder.

• The coaches didn't open up the playbook too much — not a lot of plays run out of different formations on offenses, not much effort to disguise things on defense — but they did call a lot of deep passes, including the first play, when QB Preston Stone hit WR Jordan Kerley on a long flea flicker on the first play from scrimmage. Head coach Rhett Lashlee has said during the spring that he is glad to have the receivers that will allow deep balls during the season; after Friday's game, Stone also said he anticipates going deep quite a bit in the fall. He and QB Kevin Jennings, who physically looks significantly stronger than he did during the 2002 season, both connected Friday on multiple deep balls.

• When I got to the scrimmage, I talked to JasonB, who said he was going to focus on the lines of scrimmage and I would focus on the skill position players ... which makes it a little weird that I would bring up Elijah Chatman. But the fact that I am is an indication of how many roles he will fill in the fall. The guy who already has 32 career starts might not start in the fall, but if he doesn't, that is not an indication of falloff in his play — instead, it's an indication that transfers Jordan Miller (NT) and Elijah Roberts (DE) have demanded immediate playing time. Those two have impressed since the start of spring camp, and that continued Friday night. Miller anchors in the middle of the line, eating up blockers and blowing up running lanes — he'll be hard to move. Roberts brings size and power off the edge, but the assumption that he is a pass rusher only is wildly inaccurate. He is a force against the run, as well, with the strength to get through blockers and the quickness to make plays in the backfield.

Chatman is still a significant part of the defensive line, to be sure, and deservedly so, but the possibilities of what he can do on offense are a little tantalizing. His power is no secret, and anyone who saw his 23-yard fumble return for a touchdown at Tulsa last season knows the former high school running back is quick for a guy who is within shouting distance of 300 pounds. During the spring, defensive coordinator Scott Symons cringed at the thought of his defensive linemen getting blasted by the battering ram Chatman can be on offense ... but quickly recognized the value he adds to the offense. But to make clear the fact that Chatman is not only a blocker, one of the first offensive plays of the night was a screen pass that Stone underthrew a little — Chatman was able to adjust and reach down for it, and when he turned upfield, he blasted through the first couple of defenders before eventually being brought down by five or six defenders. No, that doesn't mean he's going to be a deep threat with a complex set of pass routes, but it did make clear the fact that he is not just a blocker. He'll give opposing defenses plenty to worry about, as they'll have to respect the idea that he could get the ball in his hands and they'll have to figure out how to tackle him ... all while trying to live through the experience of being blocked by him. Make no mistake: Chatman will make highlights out of blocks. He's strong enough that he can move defensive linemen and run through linebackers, and quick enough that if he gets around the corner and finds a defensive back waiting, he'll turn them into speed bumps, at best. You know that phrase about players who "make a business decision" when they opt to avoid big hits? There will be defensive players who make business decisions when they see No. 40 coming in 2023.

• Nice to see the ball thrown toward WR Daylon Dickerson. I think he only had one catch Friday, but a 6-foot-6 target is an intriguing option in any offense. He needs to get stronger — he is listed at 185 pounds — but he runs well and shows a willingness to block downfield. As he grows into his frame, he's one to watch.

• As was the case in the past, punts were fielded by Rodering Daniels and Jordan Kerley, and Jaxson Lavender caught one, but of course were whistled dead immediately — no need to subject them to unprotected hits.

• How the receiver corps shakes out remains to be seen, of course, but it's clear the coaches again will be trying to find multiple ways to get the ball to Daniels, who can go out wide, play out of the slot and showed last year he can line up at running back. Even with the arrival of Brinson, Key'Shawn Smith, Lavender, etc., Daniels seems likely to retain or even expand his multiple roles in the offense.

• Among the interested observers at the scrimmage, amid a large group of recruits: transfer OL Logan Parr.

• Based on nothing more than the eyeball test, S Bryan Massey looked better than last year. He looked more like the 2021 version of himself, when he was an electric kickoff returner and made athletic plays in the secondary, more than in 2022. The play that stood out Friday night was his interception return for a touchdown, but to be fair, the ball was thrown right to him, and there wasn't an offensive player in sight, so he could have walked to the end zone. But more importantly, he made numerous plays downfield in coverage, running step for step with receivers and knocking away several passes.

• How the secondary shakes out will be fascinating to watch in the fall. No position group gobbled up as many additions through the transfer portal (the next stage of which opens today). S Jonathan McGill, and CBs Chris Megginson, Charles Woods, Cale Sanders and Jaelyn Davis-Robinson all have shown promise during the spring. Teammates and coaches who has talked about McGill have called him a "coach on the field." Megginson knows the defense from his time playing for Symons and CBs coach/passing game coordinator Rickey Hunley, Jr. at Liberty. No, it's not likely that they all become instant starters, but several could, and if nothing else, when combined with Massey, S Isaiah Nwokobia, CB KD Hall, CB Jahari Rogers, CB Sam Westfall, S Ahmaad Moses, S Brandon Crossly, etc., there is a level of quality depth the defensive backfield has not had in ages.

After missing the 2022 season, Bryce McMorris was back on the field, too. He played a lot of safety in high school, but was thrown in as a cornerback as a true freshman in 2021. In Friday's scrimmage, he was back at safety.

• There has been a narrative during the spring that the two transfer running backs, L.J. Johnson and Jaylan Knighton, represent a "thunder and lightning" combination, with Johnson being more of a power back and Knighton being the sprinter at the position. There is some truth to that, but Friday's scrimmage indicated that it would be inaccurate to think Johnson is only a short-yardage back. He had several carries on which he found a lane and showed some burst into the secondary ... at which point it was up to the defensive backs to try to bring him down. Like the secondary, the running backs — Brandon Epton also ran well Friday — are much deeper than in years past, with Wheaton, Johnson, Knighton, Epton, Tyler Lavine and Velton Gardner all vying for carries.
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Re: Notes and observations from Spring Game

Postby ponyboy » Sat Apr 15, 2023 1:55 pm

Solid write up. Thank you.
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Re: Notes and observations from Spring Game

Postby Smumba2009 » Sat Apr 15, 2023 3:34 pm

As the comedian Ron White says, "we're looooooaded."
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Re: Notes and observations from Spring Game

Postby Lefty » Tue Apr 18, 2023 9:13 am

Maybe Rob Lanier should take a look at Dickerson, too. He looks the part.
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