One of the reasons many are optimistic about the SMU football team’s chances for a successful 2011 season is the defense’s front seven. The front of the Mustangs’ defense has proven, productive players, many of whom have won all-conference honors after the 2010 season or as preseason honorees this year.
One position that remains something of a question mark, however, is the outside linebacker spot vacated by the graduated Youri Yenga. Several players worked at the position during spring workouts, and while there will be competition again during the Ponies’ preseason workouts in August, Victor Jones was running with the first-team defense at the end of spring workouts.
|Linebacker Victor Jones said he hopes a 2009 calf injury will earn him a medical redshirt to continue playing in 2012 (photo by David Mojica).
Jones said that he is simply one of several players attempting to fill Yenga’s position in the starting lineup, adding quickly that stepping into the void left by Yenga’s graduation does not mean he is an exact clone of his predecessor at the SAM (strong side) linebacker spot.
“I just want to play up to the level where he was,” Jones said. “Youri is like a perfect person. He’s a great player, but he never needed to talk about it. What he could do just showed up on film.
"His passion, his effort — Coach Mason said that when he goes places and shows film, people always say how ‘No. 45 (Yenga) never gives up.’ That shows up. I want people to say that about No. 33 (Jones), too. We all should want people to say that about us."
Defensive coordinator Tom Mason agreed that Yenga’s performance and consistency overshadowed his statistics in a defensive system that is designed to funnel a lot of plays to the MIKE and BUCK (inside) linebackers, so much so that compiling a highlight film for scouts became a challenge, if only because Yenga made so many plays from which to choose.
“Youri was one of our better players,” Mason said. “When we put together a highlight film for him, I had 80 cuts, and it was hard to get it down to 35. (He) is one of the strongest players we had, especially in his hands — he has a freakish punch, partly from playing defensive end when he first got here.”
Like Yenga, Jones arrived at his current outside linebacker position after starting his SMU career at another position — in his case, inside linebacker. But since moving outside, Jones has found a comfort level that Mason said could allow Jones to become a Yenga-like player.
“Vic is a really good athlete,” Mason said. “He can run, he’s strong and he’s tough. Putting him outside just worked. It took some of the thinking out of it, and he could just play with his athletic ability. Youri is one of the strongest players we had, especially in his hands — he has a freakish punch, partly from playing defensive end when he first got here, and he did some of the same things, where they’re both smart players, but when you let them just react and rely on their athletic ability, they’re able to make a lot of plays. Youri did it, and Vic can do that, too. Vic is very smart. He knows everything in our defense, and not just his own assignment.
“I think he had lost a little confidence, or he thought I had lost a little confidence in him … and he’s right. We had him working inside, and he was waiting his turn, but we also had Cameron (Rogers) there waiting for Pete (Fleps) to go. So we moved him outside, and it was like he had a new life. Some guys just work better inside or outside, they’re more natural at one or the other. Vic is more natural on the outside.”
Jones is entering his senior season, but said he expects it won’t be his last at SMU. He never used a redshirt year, and suffered a season-ending injury early in 2009. Jones is hopeful that the injury occurred early enough that the NCAA will grant a medical redshirt waiver to allow him to play for the Ponies again in 2012.
“It was a freak thing,” he said. “It was in practice, I think during our bye week. I was coming out of a break, and I thought someone had kicked me in the calf. They thought it was my Achilles (tendon) at first, and they put me in a boot for six weeks, and when I got that off and tried to run, I ended up re-tearing it three times because I pushed it.
“I wasn’t even jogging again until we were in Hawaii. I kept asking (head trainer) Mike (Morton) if I was going to be slower (after recovery), because the calf is made up of a lot of fast-twitch muscles. What was going to happen with my reflexes? I had a small hematoma (a localized collection of blood outside the blood vessels) in my calf, and I wasn’t sure how it would be after it healed. But I hope I get my medical redshirt. I only played a couple of games, so I think I have a good chance to get one.”
Before he can worry about getting an extra year, Jones is preparing for his senior season, hoping to lock down the starting SAM position. His athleticism and knowledge of the defense would allow him to play on either side, but Ja’Gared Davis is entrenched at the WILL linebacker spot.
“In our defense, we have to be able to play both sides,” Jones said. “But JG is such a great pass rusher, and I’m more of a coverage guy. I have more responsibilities with trips (three receivers on one side of the field) or if the other team has a tight end in the game.”
Jones is quick to point out that the fact that he was working with the first-team defense at the end of spring workouts does not mean he has any kind of a stranglehold on the starting job.
“Competition brings out the best in everyone, at every position,” Jones said. “If I go into two-a-days thinking I’ve got the spot locked down, I’m not going to bring out my best. You have to compete every day in practice, to treat it like it’s a game.”
Mason also steered clear of naming Jones the guaranteed starter, but said he likes what he has seen from Jones since he moved outside and backed up Yenga.
“I like him out there,” Mason said. “I think he has a chance to be really good out there. The only question is what happens when the bullets fly.”