Overall, the two defensive units performed well considering the deficiencies along the defensive line and the youth of the linebacking corps. Very little from last night changed my views significantly from previous practices and scrimmages. The secondary looks very salty and a lot more physical at the safety positions than in recent years at A&M. The defense allowed nine touchdowns in 24 possessions which includes eight series that began in the red zone, so I's say overall the defense was effective against arguably one of the best offenses in the country.
The first unit ran exclusively a 3-3-5 package with Alonzo Williams in the middle flanked by Tyrell Taylor and Gavin Stansbury. That won't be the starting lineup in the fall when Kirby Ennis and Julien Obioha return to the field and incoming freshmen Justin Manning, Isaiah Golden, Hardeck Walker, and Daeshon Hall among others entering the program this summer.
Tyrell Taylor did give Cedric Ogbuehi all he could handle with a quick edge rush, but both starting tackles are pretty good and never let Taylor get a quick, clean shot at Manziel. He did get one sack on an NFL-like move where he again went hard outside and Ogbuehi went out there with him and then he made a quick inside spin move and caught Manziel stepping up in the pocket. That was a big-time move right there and a reason why he's playing with the first unit. He is still too light and can be thrown off track with merely a fore arm shot or a glancing shove by an OL, but he's talented. Hopefully, he'll put on another 10-15 pounds in the summer and become a force in other areas besides the rush. Alonzo Williams was fairly quiet but seemed to hold his own and clog up running lanes in the middle. The rushing game was never a big factor with the first units. Gavin Stansbury is playing about as well as he can play, and it still may not be quite good enough for the SEC. I expect Obioha to get his starting spot back in the fall, but Stansbury has shown enough that he can give Coach Price some spot playing time as needed.
I thought the second unit DL was a little soft early on giving up an early touchdown with six straight runs between the tackles that netted 24 yards and a score. Jordan Points played the entire time in the middle (no Polo and I believe he was healthy) in both the 4-2-5 and 3-3-5 packages. He's raw as expected, but I saw enough this spring to think he might be a factor in the rotation this fall depending on what the other incoming freshmen do. If you were to ask me the biggest surprise of the scrimmage for the defense, I'd have to go with Kimo Tipoti who played in the four-man front sets and in several short yardage situations. He held the line strong in those short yardage plays and helped knock back the offense on consecutive 3rd /4th down and inches. The Aggies have nobody on the roster other than Ennis with his wide base and low center of gravity. I certainly see Tipoti carving out a niche in short yardage game situations.
Both Tyrone Taylor and Brandon Alexander had early sacks on the first possession for the No. 2's. It was Taylor that had the more productive night getting another sack along the way. But where I really liked Taylor was on the off-tackle run plays away from his side and he quickly slid down the line and made several stops from behind for no gain. He's a little thicker than his brother Tyrell and at this stage is better in run defense. He's somebody to keep a close eye on in the fall as I think he's the most complete DE prospect this spring.
I think the linebackers did a solid job Friday, and the entire spring for that matter even with the lack of experience and depth with several veteran graduating and hurt this offseason. Donnie Baggs has quietly put together a nice spring and he baited Manziel into a throw that resulted in an interception right in his breadbasket. Nate Askew didn't register any sacks from the joker/jack (whatever they call the rush LB this year) position, but he made a couple of stops close to the line of scrimmage and you can't tell he was a receiver just three months ago. I'm not sure he's the ultimate answer at rush LB in the fall, but he's squarely put himself in the discussion and he'll have every opportunity to win the job in August…and that was about all he could ask for heading into spring camp.
Shaun Ward did drop some extra weight and looked better than he has so far in his career, but he still had troubles shaking the two mid-term freshmen Brett Wade and Reggie Chevis. Wade wasn't blocked on a blitz and he registered a sack, but he was more impressive getting his nose dirty on many of the running plays. Chevis also made a few plays along the line of scrimmage. I'm not ready to call either one a difference maker just yet, but I do think they showed enough this spring to be in the hunt for significant playing time in the middle. Tommy Sanders wasn't able to get past the OL on several blitzes, but he did make two nice stops on running plays and I like what I see out of him so far although I was expecting a few more results on the blitzes.
I don't know if it's just that these guys are now so familiar with the A&M offense or whether they are really THAT good, but last night they made it difficult for the quarterbacks. I could count on one hand the number of times the QB's dropped back, found their open targets downfield, and hit them in rhythm and stride. The QB's were constantly checking down and looking for the open man when not throwing the quick hitters at the line. There were also very few missed tackles by the corners, which is good news for Devante Harris.
Deshazor Everett is a beast in coverage, but for the second time in as many scrimmages, he dropped an easy interception that hit him square in the breadbasket. It is so critical to make those plays because they are game changers. Still, he and the other corners were making it difficult for the QB's…even Johnny who buys himself so much time but got a little frustrated a few times and forced passes into coverage.
But what really got my attention (and has all spring) was the physical play of the safeties. Howard Matthews absolutely laid out Brandon Williams striding for the end zone and dropped him in his tracks at the 2-yard line. He consistently came up and made big plays. Floyd Raven is physical in a different way. He's not a big hitter in run support, but he uses his big 6-foot-2 frame to dominate receivers. He uses his body well to cut off receivers and with his length he's great at blanketing receivers with coverage over the top…something A&M hasn't had in almost a decade. He also brings an attitude and swagger to the group. Raven has certainly been a major storyline this spring and backed it up Friday with some nice break-us including an interception of Manziel.
Even Clay Honeycutt has gotten into the act and laid a few nice hits. I'm not sure what happens when some of the true freshmen get to campus, but Honeycutt has had his best camp of his career and I wouldn't rule him out of the competition for playing time as a backup this fall.
FNL Scrimmage Analysis - Defense
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