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SMU’s June Jones is a quarterback mentor

Kate Hairopoulos Published: September 6, 2009
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UNIVERSITY PARK, Texas — When SMU football coach June Jones pulled aside Bo Levi Mitchell after a recent practice, the quarterback with "Gunslinger” tattooed on his right bicep listened intently.

Jones wanted Mitchell to pay closer attention to where he flicks his eyes as he goes through his progressions.

Look at the receiver, not the spot where you think he should be, Jones instructed.

It wasn’t exactly manna from QB heaven, but when Jones talks, quarterbacks furiously scribble mental Post-it notes with every visible nod.

"Anything he says, you really take in,” said Mitchell, a sophomore.

Jones has coached the likes of NFL greats Brett Favre and Jim Kelly. He — along with the Run and Shoot offense and quarterbacks coach Dan Morrison — is why you know about

Timmy Chang and Colt Brennan and why their names dot NCAA record books.

Mitchell, who threw 24 touchdown passes and 23 interceptions last season as a true freshman starter, is Jones’ current project as SMU prepares for its season opener Saturday against Stephen F. Austin. His development since the Mustangs went 1-11 last year, Jones’ first with the school, will determine how much SMU improves.

"I don’t think I’ve had a quarterback who has been an accurate passer that we haven’t been able to develop into being a quarterback for us,” Jones said.

Pick a prospect

Because of the staff and system’s quarterback-friendly reputation, hundreds of DVDs pour in annually to Morrison, who had coached in Hawaii and joined Jones’ staff there in 1999. He received the most during the 2007 season, when Brennan, now with the Washington Redskins, was steering the Warriors through an undefeated regular season.

Morrison usually picks six to 10 standouts to show Jones.

Sure, the can’t-miss NFL prototypes usually go to a BCS program. But Morrison can still find what he’s looking for: arm strength, fast arm, fast release and balanced feet.

A prospect must show an understanding of progressions. Morrison can tell by watching the helmet move if the quarterback is thinking them through.

But the most coveted tool is an accurate arm. The Run and Shoot demands quarterbacks make quick, difficult throws, such as a 25- to 30-yard shot to the flat — three steps, boom, let it go — and hit the receiver under the chin.

"There’s some quarterbacks where the receivers don’t have to work for the ball at all, and Bo was that way,” Morrison said.

Mitchell didn’t throw much more than 15 times a game at Katy. But Morrison spotted the formula after then-Hawaii cornerback Ryan Mouton, a family friend from Katy, delivered Mitchell’s footage.

When Jones left for SMU, Mitchell switched his commitment and came along.

He was in for a beating.

Throw, repeat

Ideally, Mitchell would’ve redshirted and learned the system in practice.

Instead, he started after a couple of weeks of fall camp.

"He’s the centerpiece,” Morrison said.