Aggies Looking For Defense

If ever there was a year for the Texas A&M Aggies to make a run at the Big 12 South Championship, this would be the year. The in-state rival Texas Longhorns are replacing superstar quarterback Vince Young, and the Oklahoma Sooners are coming off a lackluster season. Do the Aggies have the talent to take things to the next level?

Despite losing a four-year starter at Quarterback in Reggie McNeal, Aggie fans have to feel good about the prospects of Sophomore Stephen McGee under center. McGee was a lone bright spot in the regular season finale against Texas last season. He completed nine passes for 83 yards, but also rushed for 108 yards on 24 carries. More than anything, he played like a confident leader against the Longhorns despite the fact that it was his first career start.

Helping McGee carry the load on offense will be a trio of talented backs, senior Courtney Lewis is a dependable three-year starter, who has rushed for 2,489 yards in his career. Sophomore Javorskie Lane (5-foot-11, 274 pounds) is a big back who gained 595 yards in his debut season. The real star of the running game could be freshman Michael Goodson, who was Scout's number six-rated tailback last season. The five-star prospect has outstanding speed and vision, and should make an impact right away in College Station as a running back and kick returner.

The running game will be operating behind an experienced offensive line that paved the way for a 5.7 yards per carry average last season. Four players are back who started 11 games for the Aggies including center Cody Wallace, tackles Yemi Babaloloa and Corey Clark, and guard Kirk Elder. The fifth spot on the line will likely be manned by junior Chris Yoder, who started 12 games at center in 2004 or Alabama transfer Grant Dickey.

If there is a question about the offense it's in the passing game. McGee has a total of 53 career attempts and lost his top receiver, Jason Carter, to graduation. The Aggies get back Chad Schroeder, L'Tydrick Riley, and Ervin Taylor, who missed significant time with injuries last season. The star of the passing game might be emerging tight end Martellus Bennett. Bennett, a former five-star prospect by Scout.com, has great size at 6-foot-7, 245 pounds, was honorable mention All Big XII as a freshman last season.

The Aggies are shifting to a 4-2-5 defense this year under new coordinator Gary Darnell. The plan is to get more speed on the field and to solve the problems in the passing game. A&M was the 117th ranked team against the pass last year giving up 304.6 yards per game. The leader of the secondary should be junior Japhus Brown, who replaces Jaxson Appel at free safety. Brown started 10 games in 2004, but was lost to a torn ACL early last season. Pairing with Brown will be senior Melvin Bullitt or highly regarded sophomore Devin Gregg.

The WHIP (hybrid DB) position is likely to be manned by sophomore Arkeith Brown, who made 13 tackles as a true freshman last season. He will get pushed by junior college transfer Jarius Neal.

True freshman Jordan Pugh arrives to help at corner. At the very least he will play in the dime position against pass happy Texas Tech, although he will push Marquis Carpenter and Jordan Peterson for the starting spot opposite Danny Gorrer.

Joseph "Red" Bryant anchors the defensive line for the Aggies. Bryant started 11 games last year and contributed 7.5 tackles for loss. He is one of the most underrated defensive linemen in the country. Steady senior Bryce Reed will likely start out alongside Bryant, although he will be pushed by talented junior William Morrissey.

The Aggies are counting on junior defensive end Jason Jack to live up to his potential as a pass rusher this season. Jack was injured throughout last season, but when healthy, he was a productive player. Returning starter Chris Harrington will round out the defensive line.

One of the best stories this season will be the arrival of junior college transfer Mark Dodge in College Station. The 25-year-old Dodge has been a career military man and was in for spring football and earned a starting spot at linebacker. He will be flanked by last year's leading tackler Justin Warren. The jewel of the 2006 recruiting class, Anthony Lewis, should earn playing time backing up Warren and on special teams.

Demands are always high in College Station. When head coach Dennis Franchione arrived in 2003, Aggie fans had hopes that he would build a team that would contend annually for the Big XII Championship. There are whispers that Coach Fran could be on the hot seat if discernable progress is not shown this year, particularly on the defensive side of the ball where finishing 107th in total defense is simply unacceptable.

The schedule sets up nicely with four winnable home games (including a game against Army in San Antonio) for McGee to gain some more experience under center before Texas Tech puts the revamped Aggie pass defense to the test on September 30. Should A&M get by Tech, there is a chance of being 9-0 heading into November and games with Oklahoma, Nebraska and Texas. For that to happen, the coaching staff must find a way to vastly improve the pass defense and develop a passing game to complement what should be a solid rushing attack.


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