Fall Camp Guide 2012 - Linebacker

The Texas Aggie football team continues to grind through the first full week of fall practices. |Jeffrey JEnnings continues to preview the 2012 season position-by-position. Today he looks at the linebacker corps, historically a position of excellence for A&M football. Can the unit regain that elite status in 2012?

Without question, this is the most talented, across the board, linebacker corps the Aggies have fielded in some time. In the spring, the unit embraced the challenge of shifting from a base 3-4 defense to a 4-3 system. For the most part, they did a good job with the adjustment and showed some big-play potential for the upcoming season.

Depth was a concern in April, but the unit remained healthy and should be on very sound footing by the end of fall camp as a host of ultra-talented newcomers appear primed to come online.

Starting Middle Linebacker (MIKE)

Quite honestly, effort and dedication had been a problem in Jonathan Stewart's A&M career, but he obviously turned a corner and put those issues behind him last off-season. The newfound focus and dedication paid off, as Stewart's 2011 season was filled with 98 tackles (55 solo), 6 tackles for loss (5 solo) and three assisted sacks. He always had it, but that was the light switch. Ideally it clicks before a players junior season, but better late than never. As expected, the Louisiana native carried his newfound approach and preparation throughout a great spring showing. Couple that with his instincts, smarts, system competency, natural talent and size (he's up to a rock solid 250), and you have a perfect SEC middle linebacker, primed for a breakout senior year. It couldn't have happened at a better time, because he will be needed to help solidify the middle of a defense that may struggle to an extent up front.

Starting Strong-Side Linebacker (SAM)

If Sean Porter plays up to his most recent honor, as Pre-Season SEC 1st-Team linebacker, it will go a long ways to A&M's defensive, and overall success. An intense, business-first Porter, gives absolutely no reason to believe he'll perform otherwise. The senior to be, has 195 tackles (110 solo), 35 for loss (21 solo), 12 sacks (10 solo) in his three years to date, and he provides the steady leadership, and consistency (so needed by a team that has undergone this much volatility). Sean has tremendous speed, has put on really good mass, is versatile, and excels in all facets. He's made a living as a superb pass-rusher, but he is also excellent in run-support, and dropping into coverage. Beyond all of his measurables, my favorite aspect of Porter's game is the fact he plays with a real nasty disposition that borders on hate.

His biggest challenge this off-season, has been adjusting to a new defense that definitely saw him out of his comfort zone in spring. However, he's brought the same meticulous, hard-working approach to that transition as he does to everything he does, and there is no doubt, he won't be slowed in it, as he was in April. In fact it was evident, as he was starting to click when camp was winding down. There's no qualifying it, he is a serious young man, and simply does the work. It's an approach that has seen him increase his production, every single step of his college career, and will no doubt be doubled, as he readies himself, not just in the new system, but for his senior season in the SEC, and as he raises his stock for the his future on Sundays.

Starting Weak Side Linebacker (WILL)

Steven Jenkins was a rare Mike Sherman Juco pick-up, and it makes sense that he wasn't making a reach when he went that route. Jenkins is the real deal, learning quickly, and letting his athleticism, great speed, and physicality take over, racking up 61 tackles (30 solo), 3 TFL, including one sack, from one of Tim DeRuyter's middle linebacker spots, in his first year as an Aggie last year. Steven excels against the run and pass, and has a non-stop motor every down. This past spring, the smart, instinctual backer, wasted no time in taking to the WILL spot on the outside, playing off of Jonathan Mathis and Demontre Moore. The overload possibilities and twists with those three players, is pretty exciting to ponder, even more-so when they free up a guy like Steven Campbell to fly in a wreak havoc on occasion. Given his history, and how he never skipped a beat in the defensive transition this spring, barring injury, Jenkins will no doubt turn in an extremely solid season, and due his part to make this defense a team strength.

Back-up Linebackers

If Donnie Baggs continues the momentum and progress he made for himself in April, he could actually push Jenkins for the starting job. In fact, he'll actually start in his place in the season-opener as Jenkins earned a suspension for violating team rules. Baggs has a tremendous future. Last off-season, he was so far ahead of the curve, physically and mentally. As an early enrollee, he put together an amazing 2011 spring and off-season, despite his age. Unfortunately he wasn't able to carry it over to his freshman year, but it can't be held against a first year guy. This go around, he's that much further along, is a worker, and looks ready. Donnie has tremendous raw talent, a high football IQ, instincts, quickness, speed and feel in blitzing. In addition, he does a great job in getting off blocks, is a head hunter, tackles very well, and has gotten much thicker from a physical standpoint. As I mentioned in spring, he is versatile and while he's currently backing at WLB, if something happens to Jonathan Stewart, he'll swing to Mike and can excel there as well.

Shaun Ward was a huge recruiting coup, a highly sought after Florida linebacker who signed with A&M over Florida and USC. His 2011 was quiet as he reported a bit out of shape, and while there is not much to report in his on-field progression (as he was injured for most of spring), he has shown much better discipline this off-season. Ward is one of the more consistent names you hear out of workouts, and he's shed a lot of bad weight. He has a great first step, good technique, a versatile set of rush moves, is a solid tackler, and is very sound when dropping into coverage. In addition, when in proper condition, Shaun brings an extremely tenacious motor to the fray. How well he takes to middle linebacker spit, remains to be seen. If Ward has the instincts to match his size, and God given ability, he could be a great one. As for now, it's an unknown, but given his athletic caliber, he should be towards the top of the list, to follow throughout camp.

A highly-heralded stand out recruit, Jordan Richmond looks the part physically. Richmond has great instincts, a nose for the ball, and quality technique in getting off blocks and to the ball. In high school he showed he is a hard-hitter and a sound tackler. In addition, Jordan is a smooth athlete and can cover well when needed. He has a very strong chance of hitting the field and making an impact as a freshman, and bears keeping a close eye on in August.

Also entering his first fall camp is Michael Richardson. Richardson also arrives physically ready, is quick off the ball, uses his hands well in block shedding, and is really good in pursuit. With a great A&M career ahead of him, I'm looking forward to how quickly he takes to his new setting in August, and how ready he is to hit the field.

Tyrell Taylor was a great sleeper pick for the Aggies, but while his impressive burst off the edge and ensuing 4.4 forty speed impressed coaches enough to burn his redshirt in 2011, he simply wasn't ready mentally or physically (was only about 6'4", 195 lbs.). Unable to continue his progress in spring as he was out with injury, he'll try and get his legs back under him, and push his way into the two-deep this August.

Tyrell's younger but bigger brother, Tyrone Taylor, arrived on campus this summer, and already checks in at about 235 pounds. He's got a lot going for him like his brother, and with more size he has a good chance to push himself into the fray as an outside backer or a rush end. He started off working at rush end in fall camp. Depth at those spots may keep him in a redshirt, but he has a very bright future in maroon, and his long, athletic frame gives him a strong chance of getting himself on the field early in his career. Domonique Patterson lacks size, but is a speedster with instincts, and rounds out depth at linebacker.

Linebackers Overall

Once the vanguard university of linebackers, Texas A&M has endured an overall drought at the position, but surges back on the scene in 2012 as they field their best group of talent in years. The group is not bursting at the seams with depth, but they have a starting level fourth man with the versatility to be plugged into any spot, and a whole host of up and coming young backers, several with a strong chance of rounding out the two-deep depth chart. The latter is not a given, but will clearly be an area to key on during camp as their progression could go a long way to ensuring this unit does their bit in making the defense a team strength and not a liability.

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