The SMU Mustangs have a massive hole to fill on their defensive line as they head into the Big East (soon-to-be American Athletic Conference) in 2013 and that hole is named Margus Hunt. With the massive Estonian moving on the NFL next year, the Mustangs have to find someone to fill his massive shoes in the pass rush next season. Does head coach June Jones have anyone in the pipeline ready to step up next fall?
It will be a tall task for whoever gets the call. At 6-foot-8 and 280 pounds, Hunt was a massive force off from the defensive end spot in SMU’s 3-4 defense. Despite not playing football until coming to SMU, Hunt’s size and athleticism more than made up for it on the field and will open plenty of opportunities for the huge defender at the next level. Last season, Hunt led the team with eight sacks and tallied 31 total tackles on the year, including 11.5 for loss, and even had an interception. He also notched 11 quarterback hurries, two forced fumbles and was a constant presence on special teams, blocking three kicks.
It’s highly unlikely that Jones will be able to replace all that production with just one player, but he’ll have to find someone who can provide a push in the pass rush next season on a consistent basis. Junior Beau Barnes is expected to anchor one of the defensive end positions, but he hasn’t shown a great ability to rush the passer yet in his collegiate career. Last season, he had 16 total tackles, including just two for loss and one sack while recording just a pair of quarterback pressures. He’s been forced to the sidelines this spring due to injury, however, leaving the door open for others to make a push for playing time.
Zach Wood has been seeing a much larger portion of reps this spring with Barnes out and will be looking to build on a freshman season that saw limited opportunities. In nine games, Wood recorded just nine tackles with half a sack, making it unlikely that he is the answer to provide that much needed pass rush. The experience this spring, however, will be good for him and for the team in building up the depth of the position after losing all three starters on the defensive line from a year ago.
The name that many coaches seem most excited about is Andrew McCleneghen, a 6-foot-6, 255-pound sophomore. He was used sparingly last year as a freshman, recording just two tackles, including one for loss, but has the size to really make SMU fans get excited. McCleneghen has been called a leaner Margus Hunt by some of his coaches, though he has quite a big of growth to do before he can have the same impact as the former standout.
While Margus Hunt hasn’t been playing the game of football for very long, he left a major impression on the SMU program that will be difficult to replace next season. Will any of the younger defensive linemen be able to step up and hold down Hunt’s former role next season?