SMU has done it all over the past two years on defense. The leading sacker in 2019 played everything from safety to defensive end. The top cornerback was a running back. The most productive tackler medically retired from football before a comeback.
“I think that’s one of the fun parts of working at SMU because, shoot, it’s been two years and there are some defenses that I’ve never been part of or learned from that we’re running out there because we have to,” defensive coordinator Kevin Kane said. “How do we get our best players on the field?”
And yet, every single week, SMU’s defense managed to come up big against some of the top offenses in college football. At the end of it all, the Mustangs posted more sacks than any team in America and ranked top 10 in fumbles gained.
However, the senior-laden defensive line is in need of new production after losing three starters. Returning defensive ends Turner Coxe and Toby Ndukwe will compete at ends, and the Mustangs added a pair of JUCO transfers to the fold. Inside, the Mustangs add Stanford grad transfer Michael Williams, who started 25 straight games to close out his career with the Cardinal.
If answers emerge up front, the back seven of the defense has real promise. Returning starters Richard McBryde and Delano Robinson combined for 174 tackles at linebacker. Cornerbacks Brandon Stephens and Ar’mani Johnson posted 23 combined pass breakups. Arkansas transfer Chevin Calloway should take on a leadership role at safety.
The Mustangs are getting creative to fill Patrick Nelson’s versatile role at the Fox linebacker position. Another safety, Trevor Denbow, projects to move down, and defensive back transfers Cam Jones and Ty DeArman could see time.
SMU leaned on its defense to make season-changing plays throughout the historic 10-win season. Losing NFL-caliber defenders only means the Mustangs need the unit to grow and perform even more consistently.
“We put such an emphasis on making big plays with Club Takeaway and all that stuff,” Kane said. “We created an atmosphere of guys being productive and disruptive. Now, we just have to balance it out. We can’t be giving up big plays either.”
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