2011 Texas A&M Preview – Defense
Texas A&M LB Jonathan Stewart
CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - Texas A&M Aggie Defense
Preview 2011 - Defense
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What You Need To Know:
It worked. The Aggie defense that struggled so much and was a disaster in so many ways got a lot better in a big hurry as former Air Force defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter changed things up to a 3-4, got the D to be more aggressive, and helped the run defense make a massive improvement. Butkus winner Von Miller is gone from the outside, but there are plenty of fast, athletic pass rushers ready to take his place at the Joker position; the star spot in the linebacking corps. The front three is very big and very good against the run, the linebackers are deep and can move, and the secondary can fly and is loaded with good veterans. This won't be the Big 12's best defense, but it'll be close.
Star of the defense: Sophomore LB/DE Damontre Moore
Tackles: Garrick Williams, 112
Sacks: Damontre Moore, 5.5
Interceptions: Dustin Harris, Coryell Judie, 4
Player who has to step up and be a star: Senior CB Terrence Frederick
Unsung star on the rise: Junior DT LeMarc Strahan
Best pro prospect: Moore
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Moore, 2) LB Garrick Williams, 3) LB Sean Porter
Strength of the defense: Experience, Run Defense
Weakness of the defense: Pass Defense, D Line Pass Rush
State of the Unit: Partly because of the scheme and partly because of the coaching staff, the line improved by leaps and bounds in the 3-4 alignment. The run defense that was 90th in the nation and gave up 172 yards per game in 2009 to 30th in the nation and allowing 130 yards per game last season. While the sack total went down, it was worth it for the improvements against the ground games. Two starters return to the big front that'll be tough to pound away on.
The one opening on the line is a big one, but it should quickly be filled if the recruiting class has the gem it's hoping for in JUCO transfer LaMarc Strahan. At 6-4 and 365 pounds he's a massively-built body for the nose tackle job, and he can get into the backfield, too. Until he's ready to roll, 6-0, 295-pound Eddie Brown is a bowling ball of a defensive tackle with the perfect build to get the right leverage, but he's not the talent that Strahan is. He got past a shoulder injury and started six games making 35 tackles with 1.5 sacks and five tackles for loss, and with his excellent speed and athleticism he could be used as a great interior pass rusher in a 4-3. While he's just fine in the middle, he could move to the end in the current scheme if needed.
Back at right end is senior Jonathan Mathis, a seven game starter who made 41 tackles with 3.5 tackles for loss. At 6-2 and 285 pounds he's more of a tackle than a true end, but the former JUCO transfer was just okay, not great, when he worked on the nose. Great against the run as a 3-4 end, he has just enough athleticism to be decent on the outside as a pass rusher. Senior Ben Bass is a 6-5, 280-pound senior who made seven tackles with a sack as a backup. After having problems with his grades, he improved in the classroom to go along with his top shelf motor to be a good reserve.
6-5, 300-pound senior Tony Jerod-Eddie is a tackle more than an end with great strength and just enough lateral quickness to be a rock against the run. A 13-game starter on the left side, he made 49 tackles with 2.5 tackles for loss. He won't get into the backfield, but that's not really his job; he's supposed to hold up against the better ground games. Junior Spencer Nealy, son of former NBA tough guy Ed Nealy, is a plugger with 6-5, 272-pound size and enough of a motor to get by. A key backup, he made 20 tackles with 2.5 tackles for loss in the rotation.
Watch Out For … Strahan. The line is already big, and it's going to get a whole bunch bigger with the monster JUCO transfer expected to step on campus and become an instant factor. If he's the real deal, the run defense takes on a whole other level of production.
Strength: Size. If you're going with a 3-4 alignment, you need bulk. All three spots will have players between 285 and 300 pounds, not including Strahan, and everyone holds up well against the run. This group's job is to keep everything in the middle bottled up, and that won't be a problem.
Weakness: Pass rush. That comes from the linebackers. There's athleticism for the size on the front three, but there won't be too many big plays in the backfield.
Outlook: The line will do its job. This is a strong, veteran group that'll hold up against the run, and more than last year, there will be an excellent rotation with promising depth to rely on. If last year was about getting everyone used to the system, this year will be about improving and being more consistent. There aren't any stars, but this unsung line will be terrific.
Unit Rating: 7.5
State of the Unit: Gone is Von Miller, the 2010 Butkus winner – even though he was as much of a defensive end as he was a linebacker – and gone is Michael Hodges, the team's leading tackler who came up with 115 stops. There isn't a freak-of-nature pass rushing terror like Miller, and it'll take a tough player to replace Hodges, but the stats should turn out to be fine.
Obviously, the spotlight will fully be on the Joker position where Miller's 68 tackles, 10.5 sacks, and 17.5 tackles for loss and tremendous athleticism will be missed. 6-4, 248-pound sophomore Damontre Moore isn't going to be the No. 2 pick in the NFL draft, but he might be able to crank out double-digit sacks with phenomenal speed from the outside and the burst needed to become a star pass rusher – if he doesn't screw things up. With everything there to become the star of the defense, he messed up off the field getting busted for pot possession. It's being handled internally, but red flags are up. He saw time in every game making 40 tackles with 5.5 sacks, an interception, and three forced fumbles in a backup role, and while he's not a lock to be the starter in the hybrid position, he'll be a key part of the equation.
Also in the hunt for time is junior Caleb Russell, a 6-2, 231-pound athlete who made four tackles with a sack. While he's not an elite playmaker and is more of a true linebacker than a pass rushing end, he can produce when given time.
Starting on the other side of the Joker spot is Sean Porter, a 6-2, 220-pound junior who bulked up a bit and isn't just a safety playing linebacker anymore. While he's good at getting into the backfield with seven tackles for loss, he's a great all-around talent finishing third on the team with 74 stops with six broken up passes and a pick. Very quick and turning into a dream of a weakside defender, he should do even more now that he knows what he's doing. He'll be backed up by sophomore Charlie Thomas, a smallish 6-1, 212-pound speedster who looks like he's shot out of a cannon when he gets off the ball. Great in pass coverage because of his quickness, but he's strong against the run, too, making 11 stops.
6-2, 234-pound senior Garrick Williams is the team's leading returning tackler after finishing second on the team with 112 tackles with five broken up passes. He wasn't in the spotlight like Miller, and he wasn't as flashy as Porter, but he's a rock-solid run stopper in the middle and is one of the team's biggest hitters. While he can be a pass rusher if needed, he leaves that to the other linebackers and he uses his sideline to sideline range to make big plays. Very quick and very athletic, he'll do even more to get into the backfield. Backing him up is 6-1, 205-pound freshman Donnie Baggs, an undersized early enrollee who isn't really a pass rusher, but he's a great tackler with the smarts to become the quarterback of the defense.
Junior Jonathan Stewart could be used as a Joker but will likely end up working on the inside after making seven tackles as a backup. At 6-4 and 235 pounds he's a tall, range defender with good promise and potential, but he hasn't shown up yet to play up to his talent level. He'll work in a rotation with junior Kyle Mangan, a 6-2, 230-pound junior who has seen plenty of time as a strongside defender making 17 tackles with 1.5 tackles for loss. A former starter who made 70 tackles two years ago, he's very active and has the experience to go along with his skills. 6-2, 205-pound junior Steven Jenkins will also get every shot at the job after making 91 tackles last year for Coffeyville CC. While he's built like a safety instead of an inside linebacker, he's tough and can be used in a variety of ways.
On the way from Florida is Shaun Ward, a 6-2, 225-pound true freshman who has all the speed and all the tools to be a Joker in time. Fast, versatile, and good in pass coverage, he can do it all from the outside linebacker spot, but he could be asked to line up and fire off into the backfield like he's shot out of a cannon.
Watch Out For … Moore. There are several options for the Joker spot, and the coaching staff will use them all, but Moore put up 5.5 sacks in a backup role last year and could end up matching Miller's numbers with the full-time job. As long as the off-the-field problems are in the past, all will be fine.
Strength: Speed and athleticism. This group can MOVE. The idea is to recreate the Wrecking Crew by upgrading the overall athleticism and turning everyone loose. The coaching staff wanted to get more disruptive and more aggressive. Mission accomplished.
Weakness: Von Miller. There's no question that Moore, or Russell, or a number of other players could end up combining to replace Miller's numbers – Moore could do that on his own – but Miller was a special talent who had to be accounted for on every play. He was the leader, the lightning rod, and the All-American superstar who brought it all together.
Outlook: You don't just lose the Butkus winner and the team's leading tackler and move on like everything is fine, but everything is fine. The Aggies are loaded with speedsters who can make up for their inexperience with raw athleticism and skills. The line will do its part against the run, and this group needs to swarm and make big things happen.
Unit Rating: 7
State of the Unit: Almost everyone is back in a secondary that finished 89th in the nation but was 29th in pass efficiency defense. There might not be a slew of all-stars and there isn't any one star to work around, but this should be a good, sound unit that will take the ball away and will make the plays needed against the run.
Senior Trent Hunter is back again at free safety after a few decent seasons. He made 95 tackles in 2009 and came up with 62 stops last year with two interceptions, but the 5-10, 190-pounder didn't do enough against the pass. The leader of the secondary, he can play either strong safety or free safety with good toughness against the run and tone-setting hitting ability.
Junior Steven Campbell has decent skills but he might be limited by a foot problem. Extremely fast with 4.3 speed, the 6-0, 202-pounder should be all over the field after making 33 tackles with a sack and two tackles for loss despite missing a large chunk of last season. He didn't do enough against the pass but has been a good, sound run defender and is one of the team's most physical defensive backs.
Is senior Terrence Frederick going to be ready? After starting every game last season, the 5-10, 184-pound corner moved over from nickel back to make 57 tackles with a sack, eight tackles for loss, a pick, and nine broken up passes. Out this offseason banged up, he's expected to be back and ready for the start of the season as the team's No. 1 cover-corner with the toughness and ability to match up well with the league's star receivers. If Frederick isn't 100%, senior Lionel Smith is more than ready to see more time after coming up with a nice year making 16 tackles with a pick. At 6-0 and 190 pounds he's a bigger option than Frederick and could end up being a nickel defender.
Senior Coryell Judie was a superstar JUCO transfer with blazing speed despite suffering a knee injury, and now he has to come back healthy after having problems with his shoulders. At 5-11 and 188 pounds he has decent size and is a strong-hitting corner, making 57 tackles with four picks, but he has to prove he can stay 100%.
Working somewhere in the secondary, either as a nickel or a backup corner in a rotation with Judie, is 6-0, 175-pound junior playmaker Dustin Harris. Terrific when the ball is in the air, he made 43 tackles with a team-lead tying four interceptions and nine broken up passes. Experienced, tough against the run, and speedy, he can work almost anywhere in the secondary.
In the safety rotation will be junior Steven Terrell and redshirt freshman Clay Honeycutt. Blazing fast, the 5-10, 197-pound Terrell might be the team's speediest player and uses it well to get all over the field making 46 tackles, but he didn't do nearly enough against the run and was absent against the pass. The 6-2, 200-pound Honeycutt is one of the team's biggest defensive backs and is ready to go after getting hurt early last year. He'll work mostly at strong safety, while Terrell is an ideal free safety.
Watch Out For … the safety situation. Hunter and Campbell are good, sound playmakers with the athleticism and speed to be all over the field, but they need to be a bit more consistent and they could use a bit more help in the rotation. The Aggies have a good group of safeties, but they're not special.
Strength: Experience. Four starters are back with Terrell and Harris like extra starters with their time and stats. This wasn't a brick wall of a pass defense last year, but it wasn't all that bad and should be better with everyone of note returning.
Weakness: The Big 12. It doesn't help the cause when Ryan Mallett and Arkansas was on the schedule, too, but the Aggies suffered from being in a high-octane passing conference. It was bombs away time against Oklahoma State, Missouri, Texas Tech, and Oklahoma, and things aren't likely to change much.
Outlook: The secondary is fine. Frederick has all-star potential and there's more than enough speed and talent to go around, but it's not a special group and it needs a strong and consistent pass rush to help the cause. The experience and depth will make up for plenty of problems.
Unit Rating: 6.5
State of the Unit: Senior Randy Bullock isn't great, but he's more than good enough connecting on 18-of-26 field goal attempt over his first two years and then hit 16-of-21 field goals last year. He has enough range, hitting a 50-yarder against Texas, but he does most of his work inside the 40.
The punting game was the worst in the Big 12 finishing 99th in the nation averaging just 35.7 yards per kick. Junior Ryan Epperson struggled averaging just 37.6 yards per kick and putting a mere five inside the 20. He has a decent leg, but he hasn't been able to do much with it so far. On the plus side, he's able to hang it up in the air and the punt returns are kept to a minimum.
Receiver Kenric McNeal averaged a mere 7.8 yards per punt return, but he'll get a shot once again on the job, while defensive back Dustin Harris averaged 11.5 yards per try with a touchdown on his eight attempts. Corner Coryell Judie was one of the nation's top kickoff returners averaging 30.2 yards per try with two scores, while running back Cyrus Gray was terrific averaging 24.8 yards per pop.
Watch Out For … more attention on the punting game. There was a battle for the job last year and former backup quarterback and receiver Jeff Wood couldn't make things better when he got his chances. Epperson has to get more pop to his boots.
Strength: Kickoff returns. Gray has been great for the kickoff return game over the last few years, but Judie has been even better. Only Kansas State was better in the Big 12, and only by less than a yard per try.
Weakness: The punting game. A&M was fifth in the nation in punting in 2007 averaging over 39 yards per try, and wasn't bad in 2008 finishing 43rd in the nation. Things fell off the map in 2009 averaging just 32.98 yards per try, and only improved by a little bit last year averaging 34 yards per kick.
Outlook: The special teams should be the same as always. Bullock is a fine kicker, Epperson will likely struggle again, and the return game should be terrific. The punt coverage team was fantastic and the kickoff coverage wasn't too bad. Once again the special teams will be rough in some areas and should be elite in others.
Unit Rating: 6.5
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