By Troy Testa
You know what they say about the weather in Texas. If you don't like it, stick around awhile. When SMU's spring practice began at 11 AM on Saturday at Ford Stadium, the threatening gray clouds hovered but yielded no rain. Thirty minutes into spring session number eleven, a slight drizzle began to fall, followed by a brief deluge at Noon and then finally the sun.
The soggy start to the day didn't dampen the spirits of twenty something high school juniors would attended the practice. "I came away really impressed with SMU today," said Corpus Christy Carroll quarterback Jake Sims by cell phone, while making the eight hour drive home. "I wasn't sure what to expect but that place was really nice."
One constant throughout the variable weather conditions was the quarterbacking of Bo Levi Mitchell. From the seven on seven drills, to the full pad scrimmage, Mitchell consistently made the right coverage reads and delivered quality balls. Even during the heavy rain portion of the scrimmage, Mitchell was seeing the whole field. On a couple occasions, the offensive line gave him enough time to go through the read progressions. He would spot the only open receiver, then connect with a great throw.
Backup quarterback Braden Smith does not appear to be able to read and react quite as quickly as Mitchell does. Smith does have an excellent feel for the pocket and he buys time well, but generally uses that extra second to lock in on one guy. Transfer J.J. McDermott has been going in reverse from the first day of spring ball. McDermott has a big arm and a distinct height advantage, but his accuracy has been slowly diminishing throughout the spring.
The rushing attack is clearly still a work in progress. The offense ran the option on several occasions Saturday, but it only delivered positive yardage once and there were a couple of fumbled pitches and negative yardage plays. The offense also should a new wrinkle, lining up in the pistol formation. Last year the Ponies averaged only 2.3 yards per rush and 41.4 yards per game. The draw play has been solid all spring and the quick swing passes have been good for at least three yards, but the team is still searching for quality at the running back position. Chris Butler is getting the first team reps. Butler averaged 5.3 yards per carry and 174 yards in seven games last year.
Defensively, the Mustangs continue to work on their new 3-4 scheme. On the fifth play of the scrimmage, safety Rock Dennis stealthily walked up to the line and shot the gap for a sack against the second team offense. Besides the improvement in the pressure packages, the four linebacker scheme has been excellent defending the perimeter. The linebackers, safeties and even defensive lineman are pursuing the ball and making plays side to sideline.
SMU's leading returning tackler Pete Fleps looked like a throwback linebacker after practice, sporting a nice gash at the top of his nose and blood on his uniform. "As far as our physical nature on defense, we're certainly developing that," Fleps said. "It's a lot better than last spring. My role is definitely one of being a leader on defense. " Fleps led the team in tackling with 106 last year, 32 more than the second leading tackler.
The defense did have one tackle out of bounds that would have been a 15 yard penalty as well as a late hit, which drew the ire of head coach June Jones. "You do stupid things in practice, you're going to do them in the game," said Jones. "That was a late hit. You have to learn how to practice so you can learn how to play."
The Mustangs will practice Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday next week before the annual Red/Blue game. The winds of change are blowing at SMU. If you haven't liked the way the team has been playing, maybe all you have to do it stick around for awhile.