Mid-Point Analysis - Defensive Unit

The Texas Aggie football team had a much needed bye last weekend after suffering several injuries against Arkansas. Nearing the halfway point of the season, Aggie Websider's David Sandhop takes a look at the positives and negatives with the defensive unit through the first five games.

The Texas Aggie football team had a much needed bye last weekend after suffering several injuries against Arkansas. Nearing the halfway point of the season, Aggie Websider's David Sandhop takes a look at the positives and negatives with the defensive unit through the first five games. Who has stepped up, and where has the offense not developed as expected? Let's take a look.

Positives Developments

1) Darian Claiborne becomes a starter

While many observers felt mid-term enrollees Reggie Chevis or Brett Wade would push for significant time in the rotation, it was actually May graduate and former high school quarterback Darian Claiborne who has made the quickest transition from the high school field to the high D-1 stage. In fact, by mid-September he had established himself as the starter in the middle due to his athleticism and his instincts to find the ball. While some of the veteran LB's have struggled finishing plays, Claiborne's strength has been his ability to be around the ball and make plays. He'll only get better with experience, and should have a long, productive career in the middle of the Aggie defense.

2) Emergence of Tremaine Jacobs at corner

Pundits rarely talk about Jacobs. He's not a guy that you see in interviews and the senior JUCO transfer has played under the radar during his tenure at A&M. Last season, he had his moments like the incredible interception in the SMU game, but he also gave up some big plays. Going into the 2013 season, Jacobs provided depth while playing behind Davonte Harris and Deshazor Everett. But an early injury to Floyd Raven forced Mark Snyder to move Everett back to safety which allowed Jacobs to move into his starting corner spot. He's risen to the occasion and has made some critical man coverage plays, especially in the Arkansas game when the defense was stacking the box to stop the run leaving the corners on an island. The Razorbacks tried to take advantage of Jacobs in man coverage several times, and he was money. With the defense struggling to stop the run, it helps knowing that Snyder can leave Jacobs to take care of business while bringing up safeties to thwart the run.

3) Everett's versatility and playmaking

There's a reason why many draft experts believe Everett is a possible second-to-third round draft pick…he makes plays. He even makes plays with one healthy hand and a massively bandaged thumb. A few weeks ago, he scooped up a fumble at Kyle Field and returned it to paydirt. More importantly, with A&M clinging to a four-point lead and Arkansas starting a dive to open up the second half, Everett and his broken thumb stepped in front of a Brandon Allen pass and took the intercepted pass to the end zone for another defensive score…and one that was critical in setting the tone in a rainy second half in Fayetteville that had an upset, feel in the muggy air. But more importantly, Everett transparently shifted over to safety when Floyd Raven broke his collar bone and his replacements struggled. Make no mistake, he's the best defensive player on the roster right now…and it's not close.

Concerns Moving Forward

1) Play of veterans at linebacker

Analysts and fans alike realized that there would be some transition at the linebacker spot with the graduation of seniors Sean Porter and Jonathan Stewart. Speaking of Ole Miss, a case can be made that the season hinged on the defensive stops by Porter and Stewart on that fourth-and-inches run by the Rebels looking to close out the game. However, veteran linebacker Steven Jenkins, who actually scored a defensive TD in that game and was arguably as good as the two seniors throughout the 2012 season, did return and was expected to anchor the middle of the defense. It didn't help that he was suspended the first two games, but even after his return, he simply hasn't been the same player he was last year. He consistently leaves his gap responsibility and is slow to react and correct. The best example of this was the long run by Alex Collins at the end of the half when Arkansas was looking to run out the clock. Yet, Collins reversed course and Jenkins and the defensive end bit inside and let the freshman Arkansas runner a clear sideline outside containment that eventually led to a critical field goal as time expired. While Donnie Baggs didn't start in 2012, he did play and had seen the field since his first year. Thus, he was expected to add some stability to the position, and he frankly did not play well early and was replaced by freshman Darian Claiborne. Bottom line, the veteran linebackers haven't lived up to expectations.

2) Lack of pass rush

Unlike linebacker where there were some players with the experience and ability to be productive in 2013, the team simply does not have the natural pass rusher off the edge like Damontre Moore in 2012 and Von Miller before him in 2010. The staff thought Julien Obioha could make that transition from strongside DE, but that's just not his strengths as a player. Gavin Stansbury isn't the dynamic athlete you need in that role. Daeshon Hall has the potential to be that playmaker off the edge, but he's still undersized and gets caught up in the "noise" of the play. He'll be good with another off-season and about 15 pounds of muscle, but for now he hasn't provided the spark in pass rush. A good pass rush can cover up a lot of deficiencies in the defensive backfield, and a weak pass rush exposes every minor blemish on the defensive unit.

3) Development of the Freshmen DL's

Even before Kirby Ennis went down with a season-ending knee injury last week, everybody close to the program realized that the highly-touted freshman defensive line class would need to contribute to the rotation…not necessarily as starters, but as contributors. Hardreck Walker seemed to get most of the buzz early in camp, and he played significantly in the absence of Ennis who was suspended in week one. However, his play was inconsistent and his playing time deteriorated in subsequent games. Surprisingly, veteran backup Ivan Robinson rushed back from an Achilles injury and jumped in front of the freshmen a few weeks ago, which makes you wonder. Isaiah Golden finally saw extended action, but only after Ennis went down in Fayetteville, Golden received his reps. He will also get the start this weekend in Oxford, and his performance will determine if the A&M defense can improve and hold the rope. It will also determine whether this freshman DL class will be on-pace for current and future success at the position, or considered a disappointment in year one. Daeshon Hall has flashed at times with some big plays, but overall he simply doesn't have the bulk and strength to be a consistent factor at DE. The staff signed six freshmen DL's in a season where their help is needed, and unless Golden can emerge as a playmaker in the coming weeks, you have to consider their early development to be somewhat disappointing. But, that is not a reflection on the potential long-term production of this group.

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