Thursday SMU named its starting quarterback. At SMU's annual luncheon head coach June Jones announced that redshirt sophomore Neal Burcham would succeed Garrett Gilbert as the Mustangs' starter. Burcham found out about his role just like everybody else did.
"I actually found out at the luncheon as well," Burcham told PonyPride. "Me and the offensive coordinator coach (Dan) Morrison had talked about it earlier, went through the situation that I was getting first-team reps throughout the camp. Had an idea but found out when coach Jones mentioned it at the luncheon."
Though Burcham is happy about getting the job, he still approached practice from a business-as-usual standpoint.
"It's a good feeling to get that assurance but it doesn't change anything in terms of how we practice," Burcham said.
This will not be Burcham's first time starting at the collegiate level. When Gilbert went down at the end of last season with a knee injury, the 6-foot-3, 213-pound Burcham got the opportunity to start two games. In those two games Burcham was a combined 51-of-86 for 434 yards, one touchdown, three interceptions and eight sacks.
The Mustangs' signal-caller says that experience has helped him prepare for this season.
"Just kind of the speed of the game and how the games played and how you have to prepare for each game," Burcham said when asked what he learned from the Houston and Central Florida games last season. "I think last year, I went in as not sure of myself that I could do the job. I think with a summer of work and a couple games under my belt that the confidence is there. I feel like that is very important to prepare each day like we can get the job done."
One challenge Burcham will face early in the season is a grueling non-conference schedule with matchups against Baylor, TCU, Texas A&M and up-and-coming North Texas.
"Well I think the main thing is we can't go in thinking that we're going to get beat or are we going to get beat. If we go into every day at practice thinking we have a chance to win the game then I think we have a great chance to win the game," Burcham said. "I think that's my job, to portray that confidence, portray that excitement that we're going down there with the opportunity to do something special. I just have to come out every day with enthusiasm and preach confidence and (say), 'Hey guys, let's get this done.'"
After practice Friday Burcham stood by the tunnel before his interviews, tapping fists with his teammates as they went into the locker room. He says these are the things he is working on to be a leader for SMU.
"As the starting quarterback, you have eyes on looking for you to step, be the leader. For me, I'm not too much of a vocal guy but trying to step up in that as well and pick up the intensity in practice," Burcham said. "If somebody isn't doing what they're supposed to be doing, let them know, 'Hey, I'm not attacking you, I'm attacking the problem. I'm attacking what we need to do to be a better team.' And that's kind of my main focus and try to spread that same focus as team instead of attacking somebody. Just have the team's interest in mind at all times."
Burcham will have to be a leader on offense, especially with SMU returning only one of its three top receivers from last season. While there are guys with less experience trying to fill those holes, Burcham has already seen a big improvement in his targets during the offseason.
"I think from where we were at receiver at the beginning of the summer to where we are now is daylight and dark," Burcham said. "We put in so much work throughout the summer. We were out here all summer getting the routes and getting associated with each other, timing up things. I just think that's made a world of difference. I feel comfortable with who's out there and that they're going to make the right reads. We're going to be on the same page at all times."
Bullet points from practice:
• SMU spent time working on its special teams on Friday. Jackson Koonce was riding the stationary bike but Colton Gier did a good job placing punts in the corner of the field.
• Cedric Lancaster had a good day, reaching out to make nice catches. He might have only dropped one pass all practice.
• On the flip side, Deion Sanders, Jr., had trouble holding onto the ball today. He did show nice footwork dancing around defenders on the sidelines.
• Zach Wood and the rest of the defensive line made their offensive counterparts work hard. Wood in particular put a lot of pressure on Burcham.
• Two representatives from the NFL were in attendance at practice. A scout from the Saint Louis Rams was watching the wide receivers and former-NFL linebacker Bryan Cox, now the front-seven coach for the Atlanta Falcons, was in attendance as well. Cox said he liked how the defense looked and said he thought making stops on third down would be the key for the Mustangs this year.