Jones saw young Mustangs grow up

DALLAS -- Before heading off to Houston on a recruiting trip, June Jones took some time Wednesday to talk with ESPNDallas.com about the 2009 season and the outlook for 2010.

Jones led SMU to a bowl victory over Nevada, the program's first postseason appearance since the death penalty in 1987. Here are some of Jones' thoughts:

Q: Talk about 2009. Why do you think you were ahead of schedule?

A: A lot of the freshmen and true freshmen that played for us came on as they got into the season. Ja'Gared Davis [linebacker], Taylor Reed [linebacker], Kyle Padron [quarterback] kept getting better. A lot of first-year players were no longer first-year players after four or five football games. They learned how to play better, and I though the addition of Sterling Moore [junior defensive back] was a significant difference on defense, too. He was a playmaker.

Q: Are you surprised they grew up that fast?

A: No. It's like the NFL. They are no longer rookies after they get past the preseason and four or five football games. I anticipated that they would do that because athletically they were that good.

Q: How important was it for the team to not just make a bowl game, but win it?

A: Winning it was critical because of the unique time slot that game had on ESPN [Christmas Eve and the only bowl game on at the time]. Every player that played professional football, college or high school was watching that game. To have that type of game on that day, really you can't pay for that kind of marketing for your team and what you do.

Q: Are you seeing some results in recruiting because of the bowl game?

A: Yes. Every school we go to, they are congratulating us. The last couple of years you go in there and you're 1-11. It's a totally different attitude when you walk in the door.

Q: Are you getting into more schools?

A: We never had trouble getting into schools, but the positive reception of being here for the third year and doing what we're doing has helped. We've had a chance to get to know everybody and get a feel for the area. We've been focusing primarily in the state of Texas, and after the first year we made that decision going into last year that we're going to stay close. There are enough players here that we can compete and win with.

Q: Does winning the bowl game change your recruiting strategy? Will you go after guys thinking about going to Big 12 schools and bigger programs?

A: It will for 2011, but the 2010 class are already committed. We've had a couple of kids decommit from commitments that were lateral schools, but not the big boys. You have to put together a string of wins and let them see what you're doing over a three- to five-year period before you will compete with an Oklahoma or Texas on a kid.

Q: Which position battles are you paying the most attention to at spring practice?

A: My philosophy is watching the quarterbacks, defensive line, corners and the offensive line. We have two young offensive linemen that redshirted, and they will get a lot of reps. We have a lot of surgeries, so we don't have enough depth to practice like you want to practice. We'll get those guys well and have the summer and fall to do it. Some of the young kids that are here, we have to get a good look at. I'd say primarily the kids that didn't play a lot last year I'll be looking at, like corners.

Q: Who will replace playmakers Shawnbrey McNeal and Emmanuel Sanders?

A: We have some guys on campus. [Wide receiver] Darius Johnson is going to be a big-time player. He learned a lot about how to practice last year. If he improves like he did, I think he has the capability to do those things. [Wide receiver] Aldrick Robinson has to step up like he did in the bowl game. And we have some freshmen coming in at running back.

Q: What's the plan at safety?

A: We have two kids that will get a lot of snaps this spring. We'll probably throw more 7-on-7 to get a look at them, but we won't hit enough to know for sure. Ryan Smith and Jay Scott, both from Houston, will get chances. Scott was a quarterback in high school and Ryan was a corner. Scott looks to be a real competitive kid, and I'm excited to see him.

Q: Is Bryce Tennison your center? What will you do about right guard?

A: He had shoulder surgery. He played guard but was backup center. He won't practice this spring. He'll take some snaps at center this fall. I think he played there in high school. He and Blake McJunkin will be the guys this fall. A lot of guys will rotate around. Bryan Collins can play inside and outside. When you're thin, you'll have to play both guard and tackles.

Q: What happens now at nose guard with the suspension of Torlan Pittman?

A: Torlan was going to be a kid that was playing for us. Hopefully his thing will be resolved. But you rely on someone else for that decision. We'll just see.

Q: How surprised were you by that whole thing [Pittman was arrested Monday on charges that he and another man raped a woman in September in Huntsville]?

A: It was a shock. He's a great kid. You would never anticipate anything like that happening to anybody. I feel bad for everyone involved.

Q: Will defensive back Derrius Bell be able to return as he covers from another concussion?

A: He is medically being held out. He's doing some testing. With all the concussion studies that have come down, I think everybody is relooking at those injuries. And that's smart. It's probably why I can't remember anything from my playing days.

Q: Can he play again?

A: Hard to tell. That's a specialist's decision once he gets through all the tests.

Q: What's the plan at linebacker with Chase Kennemer graduating?

A: We have to two kids that played last year, Taylor Reed and Brandon Henderson. They will take giant leaps this year. I was pleased with how Taylor played, and we have some freshmen coming in. Pete Fleps played well inside for us, too. He was a pleasant surprise. He's a good football player.

Q: Talk about quarterback Kyle Padron. Did he exceed your expectations?

A: He kept getting better and better. We knew he was not quite ready to play, and it showed early. But he's an accurate passer and has good athleticism. He relied on his athleticism and scrambled around and made plays. In Tulsa he did a good job of that. With every game, he got better. By the bowl game and in the bowl game, he didn't look like a true freshman.

Q: What does he need to improve on specifically?

A: He has to keep learning the offense and knowing where to go with the ball. When he gets through the spring and has another fall, he'll keep taking giant leaps. You'll see what you saw in the bowl game. His accuracy as a passer is pretty good.

Q: What do you expect overall on defense in 2010?

A: We have a lot of people coming back. I think we'll be faster. We've played faster every year that I've been here. We keep recruiting that way. We'll still be thin a little bit in the defensive line, but we're getting better. That will show up in special teams too.

I can tell you that scouts are already writing down the numbers for [defensive end] Margus Hunt, [defensive lineman] Marquis Frazier and [defensive end] Taylor Thompson. Hunt and Thompson are legitimate defensive ends. I think Marquis' natural position is inside. Margus is getting better and better.

Q: What is it about Hunt that impresses you the most?

A: He's really smart. He's a world-class athlete. Usually, world-class athletes are conscious about everything they do, and he was that. He didn't have any bad habits. He learns things and does exactly what he's told. He learned how to play the game.

Richard Durrett covers colleges for ESPN Dallas. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.