Defensive Line & Jack (DE/LB Hybrid) Though not world-beaters our defensive front should be an overall improved unit and one finally capable of giving the Aggies' an effective pass rush and taking some pressure off of our secondary. Our defensive tackle situation should be interesting. Though thin on depth you can start to see some real talent emerging. 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. On the edges we have maybe two solid options at the true DE (if FR Spencer Nealy continues developing at his current rate) and a pass- rushing phenomenon at "JACK" in Von Miller. Depth and health will be the issue here as our starters are very solid and give us the best looking defensive front we've field in years. However injuries could spell big trouble.
DT Manning the two starting defensive tackle spots will be three solid candidates. Tony Jerod-Eddie (#83, 6-5 300, SO) 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, aiding 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, Jerod-Eddie has really stepped it up with a very strong off-season and fall camp. In short he has got what it takes in ability and ethic to be a really good interior defender. Along side of Tony (Jerod-Eddie) with amazing speed for his size and a really good initial burst, is Eddie Brown (#19, 6-0 288, SO) who has also had a productive off-season, came a long way in his size development and has really impressed recently. Like Tony Jerod-Eddie, Brown 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, athleticism and quickness to get into the backfield. Currently established as one our strongest options at the position. Adding much needed quality depth by moving back to DT is Lucas Patterson (#77, 6-4 303, JR). Lucas spent two seasons at defensive tackle but in December 2008 while he was still mending a broken leg, Coach Sherman announced that he would be moving to Left Tackle. After two weeks of the experiment in fall camp coaches decided it best that he be moved back to DT. Mike Sherman says he hasn't missed a beat there, despite not playing on that side of the ball since last November, and has already been penciled in as co-starter along with Brown at one of the interior spots. While it speaks highly for Patterson who brings his power, athleticism, intensity, well-documented on-field mean streak and toughness, as well as a tenacious-motor back to defense it doesn't say a lot for talented redshirt freshmen Rod Davis and Adren Dorsey who (failed to jump on the off-season opportunity) and have already been leap-frogged by a guy who hasn't taken a snap at DT in nine months. Already possessing brute strength, mammoth Rod Davis (#50, 6-1 300, RS-FR) 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 and in August. Davis appeared to be stepping up his game a couple notches but after a concussion early in camp he hasn't gotten back to that form. He's got the tools but the Ags' really need Rod to step up his effort and consistency for quality depth here. A&M welcomed back the very big and powerful, bull-rushing, run-plugger, Adren Dorsey (#80, 6-2 305, RS-FR) to fall camp after missing time in spring but despite good early reports he has not stepped up as hoped and has a lot of ground to make up on the depth chart.
Entering his third year on campus, California native Michael Ebbitt (#96, 6-4 265, SO) has used his strength and athleticism to work his way into the mix. He has been silent so far in his development and was a guy really buried on the depth chart, however he has done a decent job since the move, gotten a lot of reps this August and is actually listed 2nd on the depth chart at one of the DT spots. In the search for a more disruptive pass rusher on the inside freshman Kirby Ennis (#42, 6-4 265, FR) was also moved from DE to the interior and will be entering the fray with good footwork and athleticism. I was somewhat surprised to see the move of Andrew Wolridge (#44, 6-1 266, RS-FR) from linebacker to a situational role at defensive tackle, 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 played some as a down-lineman in high school. You kind of have to see Wolridge in person to get an idea of his body type (looks like a LB above the waist with the lower body of a high school guard) as he's ridiculously bottom heavy and could stand to add some serious beef up top).
DE Matt Moss (#55, 6-3 258, SR), 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 defensive end. Matt has good strength, size and smarts. Moss has followed a strong spring with a very productive off-season and fall camp raising his stock in the eyes of his coaches and observers. As has been noted many times before, he really needs to be solid at end to keep defenses honest and from double teaming Von Miller. A current reinforcement on the Aggies' defensive line, thanks to a great fall camp showing will be Spencer Nealy (#99, 6-5 245, FR). This summer he recently had an impressive and commanding performance at the THSCA All-Star Game in Austin (six solos and two sacks) showing flashes of what he brings to the table. The young man is tough and strong and really flies off the ball, shows good hand placement and follows with a good motor all the way into the backfield towards the quarterback or ball carrier. He is splitting time at DT and DE but mainly he'll be backing Moss at DE, at least until he grows into DT next year. The son former San Antonio Spur, Ed Nealy, Spencer has a lot of room to grow. Like his dad, in addition to being a great athlete he is also a very heady ball player and from what I observed this summer he looks really impressive off the edge and helps add a very strong option behind Moss at what was coming in to fall camp a very thin spot for the Ags'. He is coming off a knee sprain and should be back in the early season but it's uncertain as of this writing. Until Nealy gets back, Cody Williams (#97, 6-4 270, JR) will back Moss. Williams arrived on campus with a lot of high expectation and hasn't quite panned out so far. 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. "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 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 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, he will also be called on to drop back into coverage.
The unquestionable starter here will be Von Miller (340, 6-3 240, JR) who has been brilliant here since the inception of the spot in the spring. 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 Websiders' David Sandhop observed, "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". The flashy pass rushing specialists has looked pretty much un-blockable (no OL cracks please, we know) and has come a long way since last season on and off the field. We'll see how it shakes out in the Big XII but a dominating spring and fall camp 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. For skeptics who say it's just the weak tackles blocking, they really need to see Miller in action. Yes they lack but the guy is simply exceptional and he can beat the blockers so many ways it's unreal. Matt Featherston (#46, 6-2 253, SR) will back him. Though obviously not as quick, fast or athletic as Von Miller, Featherston is physically impressive and has a very high football IQ. If he can just match his physique and decent skill set with a nastiness or intensity his productivity will increase. He had a lot of opportunity in fall camp and really looked good in spots.
Behind the veterans are two talented freshmen that fit the Jack mold. Aaron Arterburn (#43, 6-2 237, FR) is good at reading and reacting to quarterbacks and running backs alike, and also has the football speed and motor to move in on them. Bringing his attributes and instincts to the edge, he should be a very disruptive force at some point in the future for the Ags'. Also finding himself in the mix for depth in the new-formed "Jack" position will be Andrew Weaver (#90, 6-2 230, FR). He 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.
Linebacker August proved a pretty good month at linebacker all things considered. A handful of returning linebackers and a solid group of new arrivals pushed each other in camp and the results look better than expected. However, aside from Garrick Williams there are no returning starters here, and with that lack of experience fans are going to see a lot of ups and downs from the unit. That said, even with those growing pains, this will be a better linebacking corps than we've fielded in years (it's a low bar but even at their worst this year, they'll be way ahead of last years group) and as mentioned they'll get better as the season progresses.
MLB In an anti-Makovician gesture by Coach Sherman (to Coach Kines) and as one of the better off-season moves, Kyle Mangan (#18, 6-2 231, RS-FR) was switched from fullback to linebacker and had a great spring and continued building on that as hoped in fall camp. He is a very good athlete whose play recognition, instincts and overall football I.Q. helped make him a highly touted high school linebacker and perhaps the veteran linebacker who finds himself on the most solid footing of the unit. A potential playmaker, he's a solid run-plugger in the middle and he looks really good in his coverage skills as well. Behind him will be Anthony Lewis (#36, 6-2 240, SR) who played too heavy last year and it showed. He now looks to be in much better shape but is still big and lacking ideal speed. Though not a sideline-to-sideline player, Lewis is great between the tackles, has good instincts and can bring the wood. His skill set isn't terribly conducive in Big XII ball but the once highly heralded recruit will be a decent backup in spots if he can keep himself in position to make plays (something he had issues with in August). If Mangan goes down long term, we will really need a better solution, which will come from a freshman like the hard working and athletic, Michael Lamothe (#45, 6-3, 227, FR). Lamothe is good off the ball, follows with a strong motor, as well as sound technique in both getting off of blocks and shadowing backs and corralling them to the sideline. Also good in coverage and physically pretty close to looking the part currently, his development will be interesting to follow.
SLB The very speedy sophomore Garrick Williams (#8, 6-2 230, SO) spun down from safety last spring and though he struggled mightily while finding his way last year, he has a season starting the position behind him and looks much more comfortable and confident out there currently. Now that he does not have to think so much, he's showing some good instincts and the former WR and Safety is not only making good plays in coverage but also doing a good job in taking on running backs as well. He also put on some really good size following a strong off-season and turned in a very encouraging overall off-season and fall camp. His off-season is a huge development for the Ags' as clearly the more quality backers we have the better and it honestly wasn't a success story I saw coming until last spring. We'll see if it's enough for Williams to stave off Sean Porter (#10, 6-2 213, FR) from his starting job for the whole season but for now it is his to lose and even if that happens we'll have a sound backup at the SAM spot. Though currently on the small side, Porter has plenty of room to fill out once in the Aggies' strength and conditioning program. He is quick off the ball and has a good motor to match his speed and instincts. Like Jonathan Stewart (who I'll discuss soon) he's a good pass rusher but also does a nice job of using his skills and attributes to work through the shuffle and get to the ball carrier. Porter also looks to be good in coverage. Keep an eye on this young talent this fall, as he'll likely be seeing the field soon. Perhaps more of a project at linebacker, Charlie Thomas (#9, 6-1 193, FR) is still an exciting newcomer. He is a hard-hitting, converted safety who will be spun down to LB. (Essentially the old R.C. Slocum Wrecking Crew prototype LB.) Obviously, given that, he brings great speed and athleticism to the table as well as the ability to cover but needs to add some serious beef and may very well redshirt.
WLB A potentially disruptive defender and pass rusher off the weak side, the speedy and hard-hitting sophomore Ricky Cavanaugh (#35, 6-2 225, SO) is a guy to keep a close eye on. Though currently defensive coordinator Joe Kines' favorite chew toy in practice, if he can pick up the mental side of the game he has the physical tools for a solid career in maroon and white and at the very least should provide us with some quality depth. He enters the season as starter but could soon be supplanted by the odds on favorite amongst the freshmen linebackers to earn a starting job, Jonathan Stewart (#11, 6-4 227, FR). Stewart who arrived at A&M physically ready (yet still has a high ceiling for physical growth) was by far the best newcomer at LB this fall. Possessing good strength, Jonathan does a great job of reading and reacting, showing a good nose for the ball as he works through traffic, while shadowing and taking down ball carriers. He also has very good physical attributes and a skill set for defending the edge and looks to be good in coverage.
With the big exception of the one crucial corner spot still up for grabs, the Aggies' secondary is an area on the roster that has overall high level-proven starters, but is counting on inexperienced (though talented) youth to provide quality depth. Cornerback has more potentially quality candidates but again needs to fill that starting role, while safety has two great starters but only has a handful of players to step in behind them. The group will be much improved but can't afford injury and need the freshmen, Juco-corner Coryell Judie and perhaps one of the under the radar veterans to step up and on the heals of fall camp it looks like it's headed in that direction.
CB He may not be the most talented as a pure corner in regards to his physical attributes, but sophomore Terrance Frederick (#7, 5-10 180, SO) makes up for it with ridiculously sound technique far beyond his years. He has put on some needed weight this off-season, which should serve him well in future Big XII battles. His coverage skills are amazing and the Ags' have a sound starter here in Trent Hunter's Katy teammate. Given his skill set, a year under his belt, a great off-season and fall camp, as well as what should be a much-improved overall defense around him, keep an eye on Frederick to have a big year.
The likely eventual starter opposite of Frederick will be Coryell Judie (#4, 5-11 185, JR). Coaches, observers and fans with their finger on the pulse of things, long anticipated and fretted over the arrival and admission of the very highly touted nationally ranked juco-cornerback and though it was a little hairy whether or not he'd be allowed to enroll, he was finally cleared once camp was well under way. The concern about his entrance was well warranted, as the corner situation is so thin and he brings so much to the table, and though the delay will set him back a bit developmentally, all can be grateful he's here. As quick as he's picking things up (thanks in large part to the simplification of the system) Coryell should work his way into the starting job by the 3rd or 4th game against UAB or Arkansas and his physical attributes and technique will give him a great shot at doing just that. He's a fast twitch guy and so much so that he is also expected to step in as one of the featured return men (something he's a natural at). Not only is his press coverage impressive, but also has a superb vertical and accompanying ball skills to aid him down field.
Until Judie gets up to speed look for several youngsters to start at corner opposite of Frederick. University of Houston transfer Justin McQueen (#21, 6-0 188, SR) entered spring as a squad guy who helped round out the depth chart given the lack of bodies, but ended up impressing coaches and observers alike with his blazing speed (one of the fastest players on the team, he actually ran track at UH) and coverage skills and continued his efforts this August, looking like a starter (until Judie comes along) but injury will hold him out for at least the first game. McQueen will actually be a crucial component of our depth chart whether or not he hangs onto his starting spot opposite Terrance Frederick when he returns. Newcomer Dustin Harris (#22, 6-0 168, FR) has already generated a buzz this summer following summer 7 on 7 workouts and his THSCA All-Star game performance in Austin last month where he racked up 307 all purpose yards primarily as a defender and return man (including a 99 yard kickoff return, a 95 yard fumble return and 37 on a pass reception. . .oh yeah and those 307 yards don't count a 63 yard punt return negated due to penalty). The versatile freshman (high school QB and CB) will be aided in his bid for the corner job by his obvious physical attributes (tall, fast twitch) and athleticism (agile, good hips). His reach will give him an advantage when coaches' hone his press technique but needs to add some strength towards that end. Harris will likely start the first game opposite of Frederick in McQueen's absence. Another newcomer looking to make some waves at corner is the extremely fast and athletic freshman Steven Terrell (#23, 5-10 188, FR). Like Dustin Harris he has good height for matching up with today's tall wideouts on jumpballs, and a reach that aids him in press coverage. He's yet another fast twitch guy that has a great burst in breaking on the ball. He has good hips in man but can also drop back into zone coverage. The very physical Terrell also does well in stepping up against the run and is a guy that may very well be seeing the field a good deal this year.
Another freshman that got a lot of reps this August was Desmond Gardiner (#13, 5-10 186, FR) who has sound technique and physical attributes, excelling in man and zone coverage. He is physical at the line and also has a good vertical and skills when attacking the ball in the air. A great athlete, Gardiner also possesses great speed for both recovery and breaking on the ball. Jordan Peterson (#5, 5-10 185, SR) finds himself back at corner. He was a bit small for safety and it was also quite apparent he struggled making one on one tackles in space. His hips aren't quite what you want in a corner but he has great instincts and covers well. After an off-season slowed by injury, he was doing all right in camp until the injury slowed him again. When healthy he is a smart, scrappy DB is probably best suited at nickel back where he won't be matched against taller WR's or forced to take on RB's running downhill at him up the middle, which you saw him struggle with last year at safety.
FS Jordan Pugh (#25, 5-11 200, SR) moves back to free safety, which Sherman has noted is a more natural fit for him. As a safety he provides excellent coverage on slot receivers and will do a great job in run support. He's also playing much more physical and with a simple confidence. Look for a big year out of the senior who has started the last 25 games for the Aggies'. He will be backed by Chevar Bryson (#27, 5-11 195, SR), who upped his game in August and returns to safety where he played as a freshman and sophomore.
SS Starting at strong safety will be Trent Hunter (#1, 5-10 187, SO), who is coming off a very impressive freshman year that saw him hit the ground running (posted 17 tackles in his first start against Army, 65 tackles on the year, 46 of which were solos) both on the field and establishing himself in the locker room as a true leader who's pedigree of winning was quite apparent (the kind of leadership this team needs badly in breaking a culture that had grown to accustomed to losing). Hunter is a natural instinctive player and form tackler that makes few mistakes. College Football News, who named him a first team Freshman All-American, recognized him for his breakout freshman season. Backing Trent Hunter at the free safety spot will be freshman Steven Campbell (#20, 6-0 195, FR). The young man is intense, plays with good instincts, and loves to attack the line of scrimmage. Campbell plays downhill and is eager and effective in blowing up running backs and receivers. He uses his speed to cover lots of ground in zone, to break on the ball and in pursuit. As much as he loves to hit, he is equally aggressive in going up for jump balls.
Given the low numbers several others may be called on at some point to help at safety. Colton Valencia (#26, 5-10 190, FR) is a versatile secondary talent with coverage skills of a lockdown corner and though on the smallish side, he has the strength and physicality of a safety and is a sure tackler capable of bringing down ball carriers in space. He has good speed, hips, instincts, a nose for the ball and a knack for breaking on passes. Colton was having a pretty good camp but a leg injury held him out at the end of camp. Bringing further depth to the safety mix will be DeMaurier Thompson (#41, 6-1 192, JR), who to date has primarily been utilized as a special teams guy, and converted receiver Chris Caflisch (#17, 6-3 207, JR) who similar to Bryson will bring his athleticism and ball skills to defense.
This is an exciting time for Aggie Football. Not just because we're on the eve of a new season but when you break the team down, piece by piece, you can finally see the dark clouds receding and everything finally coming together. Almost the entire roster has a firm foundation, it just needs to grow and develop and this season will provide most of that. As can be expected with this much youth fans are going to see brilliant plays and head scratching plays and the wins and losses will likely follow that mercurial trend but unlike just about every other season this past decade, you can see it actually building towards something special. Lets hope this is the last season for a very long time where Aggies' will completely accept a six-win season. Bigger things are around the corner and that's not blind faith, that's going off of the roster.