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SMU coach June Jones believes Garrett Gilbert can play in NFL

AP Photo / LM Otero
SMU coach June Jones believes that QB Garrett Gilbert can play at the NFL level.

There was a time when expectations were sky-high for SMU senior QB Garrett Gilbert.

That would've been in 2009, when Gilbert was considered one of the nation's top five high school quarterbacks. Gilbert's dad, Gale, was a star quarterback at California and also played in the NFL. Garrett led Austin (Texas) Lake Travis to a second consecutive state title in the fall of 2008, then signed to play with the hometown Texas Longhorns in February '09.

Gilbert played sparingly that fall backing up Colt McCoy. But McCoy was injured in the first half of the BCS national championship game against Alabama, and Gilbert came on to throw two TD passes and help the Longhorns keep it close. Gilbert also threw four interceptions and forced a lot of passes into coverage, which was to be expected from a true freshman seeing his first extensive action.

Expectations were high going into the 2010 season. But he struggled mightily that fall, showing the same propensity for picks (17, against 10 TD passes) and poor decisions. Texas went from 13-1 in 2009 to 5-7 in '10.

Expectations were at a much lower level in 2011, and Gilbert threw for 239 yards and two TDs in a rout of Rice to open the season. But he suffered a shoulder injury in Game 2 against BYU and missed the rest of the season; that contest with BYU also was the last time he wore a Longhorns uniform in a real game.

He decided to transfer after spring practice last year and took an extensive course load to be able to graduate in three years from Texas last summer. He was eligible immediately as a grad student at SMU, and there weren't many expectations -- or much media attention -- with the Mustangs. He won the starting job in fall camp and threw for 2,932 yards and 15 TDs and rushed for another 346 yards and eight scores. But the interception bugaboo reared its head again, as he tossed 15 picks.

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So, what should folks expect this fall from Gilbert?

"When you have consistency at that position, obviously that one person makes it a little easier to win. And I think that will show up this year," SMU coach June Jones said at AAC Media Day on Tuesday. "My quarterback is -- very, very interesting. ... I think what happened at Texas was unfortunate. But at the same time it's a plus for him that he's involved at SMU now and doing what he's doing."

Jones said it took Gilbert about six games to fully regain his confidence, and though Jones is a run-and-shoot proponent, he noted wryly that Gilbert's ability as a runner meant SMU coaches "did it a little bit different than we normally do it, which normally is passing the football." He said coaches "inserted some things into the game plan to allow him to do some things that he does very well."

Gilbert has good size (6-feet-4, 223 pounds) and the needed physical tools, and Jones said "he has the skills to go to the next level."

One staff change is that Hal Mumme has been hired as quarterback coach. Jones talked a bit Tuesday about his relationship with Mumme, noting that it goes back for about 30 years, starting when Mumme was coach at Copperas Cove (Texas) High.

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"I was with the Houston Gamblers in the USFL with Jim Kelly at that time," Jones said. "Of course, we were running the four wide receiver communist approach at that time, and it obviously was creating a lot of interest. There was nobody in the state of Texas that even knew what four wide receivers at one time in the game were. ...

"He liked what we were doing, put some of our stuff in and had a lot of success."

Jones said he and Mumme remained friends and "we kind of just picked each other's brains all the time."

Jones credited Mumme with tweaking the SMU playbook this spring.

"I always kind of felt that what we did in our passing game was getting the ball down the field vertically ... and he was more horizontal," Jones said. "We've combined some of the approaches, and I'm going to kind of enjoy watching what happens this fall because I think we stumbled upon some pretty good concepts."

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