SMU football started its second year of spring practice under head coach Chad Morris Tuesday afternoon. After a 2-10 season in 2015, SMU enters the spring with few certainties on the depth chart and a goal to constantly improve off the gains made in winter strength and conditioning workouts.
“That’s our challenge, get 1 percent better each day,” Morris said Tuesday. “That’s our challenge, coaches included.”
SMU returns 24 players who started at least three games last year. Among them are the team’s leading passer, three leading rushers, eight leading receivers and leading tackler and pass rusher. Yet Morris said experience does not guarantee job security.
“Every position is wide open, from the quarterback to the water girl,” Morris said.
With the returning players also come younger players. Fifteen of SMU’s 22 signees from the 2015 class redshirted last season.
“We redshirted a bunch of guys on the defensive side last year, and it’s time for them to step up,” Morris said.
SMU also signed 25 players in the 2016 cycle, and Morris said he expects to play about 18 to 20 of them as true freshmen this season. But he is still counting on several veteran players to become impact players. Morris mentioned senior defensive linemen Zelt Minor and Jarvis Pruitt as players he wants to see become important contributors along the defensive line. Redshirt junior linebacker Nick Horton will move to defensive end from linebacker. Morris said junior defensive end Justin Lawler, who led SMU in tackles (64), tackles for loss (9.0) and sacks (5.0), has emerged as a defensive leader in winter workouts.
“That’s an area of this football team that has to improve drastically,” Morris said of the defensive line.
Morris listed a few other position moves. Sophomore defensive back Jordan Wyatt moved from safety to cornerback. He said Deion Sanders Jr. and Cedric Lancaster are now cornerbacks, a role each play played toward the end of 2015 after initially playing wide receiver.
Quarterback Matt Davis totaled 26 touchdowns last season, but his status as the starter isn’t firm yet either.
“Matt is returning, but in the same sense, he didn’t sign a lifetime contract to be the quarterback here. Ben Hicks and Darrell Colbert are biting at the bit to see if they can win the job,” Morris said. “It’s day-to-day, they can’t win it today or they can’t lose the job today.”
Freshman All-American wide receiver Courtland Sutton returns after playing with the basketball team since January, a move Morris said has helped him on the football field already. Even after his successful freshman season, Sutton’s development is not close to complete.
“He’s got such an air of confidence about himself coming off the basketball court,” Morris said of Sutton. “He has all the tools to be another great one. He has to continue to push himself, and he will.”
Elsewhere at wide receiver, SMU seeks a sophomore leap from wide receivers Xavier Castille and Kevin Thomas. The highly recruited pair combined for six starts and 448 yards in 2015. James Proche redshirted last season and Morris singled him out as a breakout player.
“We’re really excited about James. I think James is going to be a dynamic player for us,” Morris said. “He can definitely stretch the field vertically.”