Spring Preview 2009: Defensive Front

The Aggies lose several key players from the defensive line of last year but several new faces are hoping to fill in the gaps. Jeff Jennings gives an in depth look at where the line sits for the spring.

DT

Our defensive tackle situation should be interesting. Though very thin on depth you can start to see some real talent emerging. The Ags are very young in this area, but with a year under their belts (a sophomore and several RS-FR all from the 2008 recruiting class) these talented upstarts will be manning the interior line. Given the time they've been in the system and the skill level, these guys should take it up a few notches in regards to their development and what A&M has had on the interior line the last few seasons. The downside here, beyond game time experience, is numbers: four defensive tackles on campus this spring, one limited due to injury. They will be joined by a very talented incoming freshman in fall camp, Chris Henderson.

For now, however, Rod Davis, Tony Jerod-Eddie, and Eddie Brown will get most of the reps as well as some squad guys who will possibly be needed to round out a second team (given Adren Dorsey's injury) and also to share the load if nothing else. It's only a battle of three tackles at the moment, but by fall camp you will have five very talented interior big men battling for the two staring spots. So whatever advantage they can gain now will serve them well down the line.

Already possessing brute strength, mammoth Rod Davis looks to be in better shape since last August. Hopefully his motor follows that trend and the big man can start taking strides towards his potential, as he also fine-tunes his technique. He's got good pad level and an impressive initial burst for his size, but is playing with the second team in the early going of spring. No one should try reading too much into that this early, but Davis needs to take this challenge and competition in general head on, stepping up his game a couple notches for his sake and ours.

Tony Jerod-Eddie finds himself in the first team rotation during the early going of spring ball. He has added a lot of size and not only looks the part of defensive tackle, but has very good footwork and athleticism which aids him well in pass rushing and in stuffing the run. I'm really looking forward to seeing where he finds himself at the end of this session in regards to his standing and applicable skill set.

With amazing speed for his size and a really good initial burst, Eddie Brown has also come a long way in his size development and has really impressed so far. Though it's early spring he has also worked his way into first team rotation. Brown's strong motor will no doubt reinforce his consistency as he advances in his development.

"The Jack" (DE/LB) and DE

In supplementing the paper-thin depth on the edges of the defensive front, Coach Kines was able to get a little more creative. It's also a pragmatic move that serves many purposes. Beyond alleviating roster deficiencies (which is big), the "Jack" also addresses what has been a desperate need on the A&M defense for about a decade and that is finally getting some adequate pressure on opposing signal-callers. There will be one true defensive end position and another called "The Jack", which is a DE/LB hybrid (Think 3-4 with the versatility of switching base personnel to be a 4-3 but with one slightly smaller book- end.). Since the Jack will essentially be a LB that plays LB or DE depending on the front that's called, it's very effective for disguising even and odd fronts and is a pretty simple way of going to an even front with base personnel.

The Jack will be able to blitz off the edge in a 3 front or from end in a 4-3 in overload. He usually operates standing up with his hand off the ground and in addition to being utilized as a pass rushing specialists (can I get an Amen for Von Miller!) will also be called on to drop back into coverage.

The unquestionable starter here will be Von Miller. Another advantage of this new position is the fact that we knew in the off-season Miller would be playing DE primarily on passing downs, but it wasn't known how much of the time his talents would be wasted on the sideline. Now he can be full-time, which is undeniably beneficial to a team that simply can't afford not utilize the talent it's got. Von Miller is a pass-rushing machine. He gets an amazing first step with his speed and burst, then once into the defender rips well, and on the rip dips his shoulder and "uses his strength and balance to to push toward the QB without over-pursuing him" (as David Sandhop mentioned in his Sunday Practice Notes). Coach Sherman commented early in practice that the flashy pass rushing specialists has looked almost unblockable so far (no OL cracks please, we know) and has come a long way since last season. He noted that offensive tackle Michael Schumard had his number last year but has been bested for the most part this year.

Matt Featherston will back him up. Featherston, in the early going of spring at least, will be lining up at both the traditional DE spot with his hand on the ground and also at "The Jack". He is physically there but if he can just match his physique and skills with a nastiness or intensity his productivity will increase. The rangy Billy Chavis will also provide depth here but is out as of this writing with a concussion. Chavis has been bumped around trying to find his niche the past few seasons. The versatile athlete actually started as a safety before getting looks at linebacker and tight end. He can hit like a ton of bricks but could stand to add some weight to his tall frame given he'll be playing so close to the line.

DE

Slugging it out for starter at the traditional DE spot will be Matt Moss, Paul Freeney, Cody Williams, Matt Featherston, and Ben Bass. Moss, the well-accomplished former juco player, brings a strong motor and a quick first step. He played in 11 games last year (racking up 15 tackles, 4 solo) and enters spring as the first team true DE. Our best true defensive end at this point, he has good strength and size. Moss will be pushed by several others this spring. Paul Freeney, a guy who has provided quality depth for several seasons now has a big chance to step up to the plate. He brings good speed and burst off the edge but as long as he's been on campus has been another guy who's simply not been able to get consisten,t adequate pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Maybe it's been opportunity, but he has the potential to do so and will get no better chance than the one this spring to show what he can do. He is also very solid against the run, so we'll see how well he does for himself the next few weeks. Cody Williams arrived on campus with a lot of high expectation and hasn't quite panned out so far, but like Moss and Freeney should benefit from the extra reps, coaching, and experience. Williams has really good size, strength, and relative speed, but it needs to come about on the field.

Ben Bass who has been bounced around a bit from OL to blocking TE last season finds himself in the mix for DE and DT. He'll be a true DE in the 3-4 and a DT in the 4-3.

In the early going of spring at least, Matt Featherston is lining up at both the traditional DE spot with his hand on the ground, at the Jack (DE/LB), and is running with Cody Williams at second team at the moment.

The Ags are really going to need an incoming freshman or two to step up in this role, as coaches can't be comfortable with what we've got on campus now.

Overall

DT

The very talented Adren Dorsey who is currently injured, and highly touted Chris Henderson will strengthen this group in the near future. But for now DT is a three-man race between some very quality players who ideally will be pushing each other hard. This spring will pay big dividends in making our interior line a far better on field product than the Aggies have had in years.

"The Jack" (DE/LB HYBRID)

We may give up a slight initial surge against the rush with "The Jack", but what amounts to 4 linebackers on the field at the same time and more speed on the field, we should finally have something more to offer in pass rushing with this optimal position for one of our most talented defenders, Von Miller. The tradeoff of effective pressure on Big XII quarterbacks far outweighs the downside.

DE

Matt Moss leads now, but at the end of spring we'll look closer at incoming freshmen and where they'll fit in. At a glance Spencer Nealy looks to be more of a traditional defensive end while Kirby Ennis and Andrew Weaver could grow into either or fit right into the Jack (DE/LB hybrid) or LB as they are.




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