Fall Camp Preview 2009: Defensive Line & Jack

Aggie Websider's Jeffrey Jennings previews this years Defensive Line and takes an in-depth look into the "JACK" position. This piece includes expert analysis into the 2009 defensive front for the Aggies...Read it in the tailgate

Though not world-beaters, our defensive front should be an overall improved unit and finally capable of giving the Aggies' an effective pass rush and taking some pressure off of our secondary. However, while the overall talent level is better they are on very precarious footing as any injury to one of these spots could spell disaster for a defensive line who's primary, realistic aspiration for 2009 is to simply hold it's own. Let's take a closer look at what A&M will bring to the defensive trenches (I'm including the "Jack" DE/LB hybrid in this report.).

DT

Our defensive tackle situation should be interesting. Though thin on depth you can start to see some real talent emerging. The Ags' are young in this area, but with a year under their belts (a pair of sophomores 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. However, the downside here, beyond game time experience, is the numbers. A&M has five pure defensive tackles (one if which is a true Freshmen who could use a red-shirt year in the weight room if the Ag's have the luxury) and an undersized yet potentially strong weapon as a pass rushing specialist.

Sophomore Tony Jerod-Eddie has had a very strong off-season. He established himself in the first team rotation during spring ball and has continued the efforts throughout the summer, and in the process added a lot of size and strength. Eddie not only looks the part of a defensive tackle, but also has very good footwork and athleticism, which aids him well in pass rushing and in stuffing the run. He has a good initial burst and motor to follow as well as a healthy, on-field mean-streak. Following a freshman year where he got a lot of playing time and hands on experience, Eddie has really stepped it up and many observers and coaches' are looking forward to seeing where he finds himself at the end of this session, in regards to further developing his technique and overall game.



With amazing speed for his size and a really good initial burst, SO Eddie Brown has also had a productive off-season, came a long way in his size development and has really impressed recently. Like Tony Jerod-Eddie, he logged some solid playing time last season, worked his way into the first team rotation during the spring and hasn't looked back. Stocky and strong (looking much more the college DT part at this point than last season) Brown can be an effective run-plugger and uses his strong motor to get into the backfield. Currently established as one our strongest options at the position, he will look to reinforce his consistency and overall abilities this fall.

Already possessing brute strength, mammoth Rod Davis looks to be in better shape after red shirting his first year on campus. When at the top of his game, the big man has a motor he can use to start taking strides towards his potential and as he fine-tunes his technique. He's got good pad level and an impressive controlled initial burst, but has a ways to go as was apparent in the spring. Given the numbers he's got ample opportunity to prove himself, 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.



This fall the Ags' will welcome back the very big and powerful RS-FR Adren Dorsey. Dorsey missed what would have been a valuable spring due to injury but is back and ready to go. He'll have some ground to make up and I'm curious to see how far along the bull rushing, run-plugger is going to be by camps end. Again, given the numbers here, if puts in the work he's going to have all the opportunity he needs to prove his worth and the team is really counting on him to live up to that.

A future, if not current reinforcement, for building depth on the Aggies' interior defensive line will be FR Spencer Nealy. He recently had an impressive and commanding performance at the THSCA All Star Game in Austin (six solos and two sacks). The young man is tough and strong but could really use a year in the weight room to get his body and strength on par with the college game. Like most young defensive tackles he also needs to hone his technique but he is yet another Aggie lineman that's good off the ball and follows with a good motor. He has a potentially very bright future ahead but hopefully the Aggies' can afford to red-shirt him this season.

I was somewhat surprised to see the move of RS-FR Andrew Wolridge moved from linebacker to what will have to amount to a situational role at defensive tackle. Perhaps it's an experimental move, with him as an interior pass rushing specialist. He does have pretty good technique (pad level and hands) and attributes (quick off the ball, motor, good speed) and actually played as a down-lineman in high school. Wolridge may move to defensive end at some point, which seems more logical and realistic but I could see it panning in this conference in special situations. It also bears mentioning that he does have room to add some significant size, though still obviously not enough to be an every-down interior lineman.

DE

Matt Moss, the well-accomplished former juco player, brings a strong motor and a quick first step. The senior played in 11 games in 2008 (racking up 15 tackles, 4 solo) and enters camp as the first team true DE. Our best true defensive end at this point, he has good strength, size and smarts. Moss has followed a strong spring with a productive off-season and while currently in the lead, he'll be pushed by several others this spring.

Junior Cody Williams arrived on campus with a lot of high expectation and hasn't quite panned out so far, but like Moss he 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. He's gotten a lot of reps and direction lately and if it's ever going to start coming together for him, one would think it has to be soon as he enters his fourth year on campus.

Freshman Kirby Ennis will be entering the fray with good size, footwork and athleticism. Though he was previously utilized more as a linebacker than with his hand on the ground, Ennis is an intense player with a lot of potential as a pass rusher. In the search for some athleticism and depth at defensive end coaches' decided to move K.J. Williams from TE to DE. He is no stranger to the position as he played both sides of the ball in high school. A great athlete Williams brings his speed, quickness, footwork and decent strength to the table and will be worth keeping an eye on. A sophomore entering his third year on campus, California native Michael Ebbitt will also try to use his good size, strength and athleticism to work his way into the mix. He has been silent so far in his development but the wide-open defensive end competition will serve him, as all the others, well in stepping up his game.



"The Jack" (DE/LB Hybrid)

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 several other 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 JR Von Miller. Another advantage of this new position is the fact that we knew early 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. As David Sandhop mentioned in spring a spring observation, "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 push toward the QB without over-pursuing him". Coach Sherman commented early in spring, that the flashy pass rushing specialists has looked almost un-blockable so far (no OL cracks please, we know) and has come a long way since last season. As a watermark of development, Sherman also noted that Michael Shummard had his number last year but Miller has turned the tables and bested the versatile lineman for the most part (this past spring camp). We'll see how it shakes out in the Big XII but a dominating spring may have just set the stage for the Ags' to have a long anticipated playmaker and disruptive force on the defensive side of the ball as well as a guy who simply gives A&M an effective pass rush.

Senior Matt Featherston will back him up. Though obviously not as quick, fast or athletic as Von Miller, Featherston is physically impressive. If he can just match his physique and decent skill set with a nastiness or intensity his productivity will increase. Other than coaches enacting some creative Bobby Boucher motivation techniques, I'm not terribly optimistic on that count, as that is something players either have or they don't in most cases.



Also finding himself in the mix for depth in the new formed "Jack" position will be the athletic Andrew Weaver, a freshman that comes in with good size, strength and has room for much more physical growth. Off the ball, Weaver displays a strong initial burst, decent hand technique, sound footwork and continues his efforts with a non-stop motor and very good football speed; all of which should eventually aid him as an effective pass rusher off the edge and in his run stopping efforts. He will be a player to watch this camp and during the season for that matter as to how rapidly he can bring the mental side of his game along to match his physical attributes (which as previously mentioned also have a good ceiling). When the two meet he'll make a very good defender and the sooner the better, because this is a thin yet crucial spot for the Ags'.

Overall

DT Last fall and spring have paid big dividends in making our interior line a better on field product than the Aggies' have had in years. That is said however, with a relatively low bar and bearing in mind that depth is still a big issue here. The potential is there, but A&M really needs Adren Dorsey and Rod Davis to step up with the same efforts and dedication displayed by Eddie Brown and Tony Jerod-Eddie. If that happens we have four very sound options, if it doesn't we're an injury or two away from disaster.

DE To be honest, being serviceable is the goal at the lone pure defensive end spot and at least if not a real good pass rusher, someone tenacious and disruptive enough to keep teams from so easily being able to double team Von Miller on the other side. Matt Moss put in a very strong off-season and leads now, but at the end of fall camp we'll look closer at any new faces who either showed enough to unseat him, or at a minimum, poised themselves to do so at some point in the season. Along with concerns over a quality starter, A&M desperately needs some players to step up here and at the very least establish some decent depth for the rotation. Though the Ag's have some potential candidates, this may just be the most dire spot on our roster.

"The Jack" (DE/LB Hybrid) We may give up a slight initial surge against the rush with "The Jack", but what amounts to four linebackers on the field at the same time (and more speed), we should finally have something more to offer in our pass rushing efforts. This is the optimal position for one of our most talented defenders, Von Miller and given the nature of our conference the tradeoff of effective pressure on Big XII quarterbacks far outweighs the downside. That said Miller will have to stay healthy and Andrew Weaver stepping up as a quality backup would be huge because a key injury here could really render us with the same ineffective pass rushing which has plagued our overall efforts the past decade. On an up note if that did happen, A&M has some talented young linebacker options that could slide over to the spot. In the meantime Aggies' need to knock on wood that Von Miller has the healthy breakout season so many are expecting and counting on.


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