sportsSMU Mustangs

SMU’s secondary owning up to being ‘weak link’ of last year’s team

With a new cornerbacks coach and a new mindset, SMU’s defensive secondary starts 2022 with a “clean slate.”

UNIVERSITY PARK — New SMU cornerbacks coach Rickey Hunley Jr. came to Dallas with an open mind. Sure, he watched film from all of last season, but once that was finished, he eliminated any preconceived notions about his newest crop of corners.

“A clean slate, for sure,” said Hunley, who also works as the defensive passing game coordinator, “but …”

Ah, a caveat. But Hunley said it came with a purpose.

His goal this offseason is to make the SMU corner room better, and to do so, he said, he planned to recognize the weaknesses in each of his players and improve them. That was on a personal basis, but he also challenged his group collectively.

“I’ve told them, too, the outside perception, and whoever’s perception, is that you’re the weak link,” Hunley said. “You can either live with that or do something about it.”

Hunley then offered a sly smile.

“And we’re going to do something about it,” he said.

Time will tell about that, but after last season SMU’s corners are excited for the future, especially because time already told us how last year went.

Multiple elements go into a passing defense. There’s scheme, pass rush, and on the back end there are the corners, trying to eliminate windows and keep receivers stranded on islands. With that being said, SMU’s passing defense as a whole last season was one of the worst in the country, allowing the nation’s seventh-most passing yards per game.

The defensive passing game woes showed up in big moments, too. In three of the team’s four losses — at Houston, at Memphis and at Cincinnati — the Mustangs allowed at least three passing touchdowns. Against Houston and Memphis they allowed over 400 passing yards; against Cincinnati they allowed five touchdowns.

Allowing opposing teams to have passing success is never truly on one defensive position group, but when the television cameras can fit only so much in its space, the end result is often where the cause of a play gets attributed.

But take that slate and wash it clean, as Hunley would preach.

“Last season was last season,” said sophomore corner Jahari Rogers, who is expected to start for his second straight season at SMU. “We have to put that in the past. This fall camp, this spring, we’ve got to go to work. Coach Hunley is teaching us incredible technique, and we’re going to go out there and use it. We’re going to play to the best of our ability because that’s all we can do, and I feel like we’re going to be really good in our conference this year and in the country.”

Rogers and fellow starter Bryce McMorris are back this season. So are veterans Brandon Crossley, Sam Westfall and Armani Johnson.

There are some new faces, too. Tulane transfer Kevaris Hall, a Red Oak alum, is new, and so are true freshman AJ Davis and Jayden Lawton.

Hunley said this portion of fall camp is about identifying four-to-five corners he feels comfortable playing on game days, starting Week 1 against North Texas. He said, at this point, every corner should be treating themselves as a No. 1 guy until they’re told otherwise.

There’s a confidence that comes with being a starter, and as a group the corners have played with it early in camp.

New defensive coordinator Scott Symons, who came with Hunley from Liberty, has seen a confident group throughout spring and into fall camp as well. That’s what he’s basing his opinion of the position group on.

“I’m not worried about the past,” he said of his corner group. “I’m worried about the future.”

In the future, Hunley and the SMU corners hope they can answer the perceptions that come with the group’s past.

Twitter: @JoeJHoyt

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