Reputations are sometimes hard to overcome, just ask the Texas A&M secondary. In 2005, the once vaunted A&M defense ranked dead last in the nation in passing defense giving up a whopping 304 yards a game. That's No. 117 for those scoring at home.
Enter new defensive coordinator Gary Darnell and an infusion of young talent, and the A&M pass protection saw a dramatic improvement in 2006, jumping up to No. 44 in the country in pass defense and lowering passing yards per game to a modest 190. However, many college football analysts and pundits are still questioning whether the Aggie defense, and especially the defensive backfield, can stop the high octane passing offenses of the Big 12.
One of those newcomers in the improved 2006 defense was Jordan Pugh, a highly-regarded cornerback prospect from Plano, Texas, who earned playing time in the secondary and on special teams as a true freshman. Last season was a big learning experience for the 6-foot, 190-pound sophomore.
"There's both a mental and physical adjustment you have to make coming from high school," Pugh said. "Physically, the speed of the game is so much greater. Everybody is a good football player and it comes down to speed and reacting to what's happening on the field. Mentally, there are so many defenses and assignments you have to learn that wasn't there in high school."
Coming out of Plano West as a four-star prospect being recruited by many high level football programs, Pugh had his choice of schools to attend but the academics and the culture of Texas A&M drew the talented cover man to Aggieland.
"You can find a lot of places that play good football, but I was also looking at academics and life outside of football," Pugh said. "Texas A&M had the good academics I was looking for and I knew the football team was on the rise. It just felt right for me. It was close to home as well. I loved it."
With the graduation of senior Melvin Bullitt after the 2006 season, Pugh had an opportunity to switch from cornerback over to the WHIP position for spring practices and the move appeared to pay off as Pugh came out of spring as the starter. It's a transition that went smoothly for the Plano native.
"You are more like the quarterback of the secondary at this position. You have to recognize offenses and call plays to put your teammates in the right coverage," Pugh said. "I like it. It helps that I was a cornerback because I understand what they are going through and what they are thinking. I can put myself in their shoes."
Pugh and his teammates know that while last year's pass defense improvement was a big step in the right direction, the unit needs to continue to improve and get better if the Aggies want to take another step forward and win a Big 12 Championship.
"This is our second year in Coach Darnell's system," Pugh said. "Last year, we were all learning what to do and we were thinking about where we needed to be and then we reacted. Now, the defense is playing much faster. We understand where we need to be and what we're trying to do as a unit so we're simply reacting to what we see and we're playing much faster."
Pugh also feels more comfortable and confident going into his second collegiate season and he realizes there's more responsibility for him to perform now that he's a year older and a year wiser. However, he also realizes that he's still young and needs to continue improving every day in preseason practices.
"For me, the light bulb went off in the Texas game. I was blocking the gunner on a punt and it just clicked. I understood why I was doing it and not just doing what the coaches said," Pugh explained. "But I realize that I haven't started a game on defense, so I'm still learning and I have to get better every day. Devin Gregg has really helped me learn the safety position."
Pugh and his Texas A&M teammates have high expectations for the 2007 season. The Aggies return many talented veterans and look to match up well with the rest of the Big 12. However, sometimes the difference in winning championships comes from intangibles that can't be analyzed on paper.
"There's something about this team and this group of guys. You can already tell we're practicing better because we've bonded as a team," Pugh said. "Everybody hangs out together off the field and we're close. We've taken that to the field. That's what I've noticed as the biggest difference so far this season. This team has good chemistry."
And that's something the NCAA statistics experts and the college football pundits can't measure in the preseason.
Countdown 2007: Pugh ready for new position
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