2012 Texas A&M Preview – Defense
Texas A&M LB Sean Porter
CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - Texas A&M Aggie Defense
Preview 2012 - Defense
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What You Need To Know:
Welcome to the 4-3. New defensive coordinator Mark Snyder is about to change things up to a more conventional attack, but the hope is to continue to get unconventional production out of a pass rush that finished first in the nation with 51 sacks to go along with 104 tackles for loss. The problem was that all the disruption didn't mean anything to a secondary that was obliterated early on and finished 109th in the nation. This year's defensive backfield is a bit green with three sophomores likely starting. The defensive line needs work but it's athletic enough to get to the quarterback, while the linebackers should be phenomenal with Sean Porter and Steven Jenkins pass rushing phenoms on the outside and with Jonathan Stewart a rising star in the middle.
Star of the defense: Senior LB Sean Porter
Tackles: Jonathan Stewart, 98
Sacks: Sean Porter, 9.5
Interceptions: Steven Terrell, 2
Player who has to step up and be a star: Sophomore CB Deshazor Everett
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore SS Howard Matthews
Best pro prospect: Porter
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Porter, 2) DE Damontre Moore, 3) LB Steven Jenkins
Strength of the defense: Linebackers, Pass Rush
Weakness of the defense: Secondary, Line Depth
Are the tackles in place to hold up in the new 4-3 scheme? There's no question about the pass rush from the outside, but 6-4, 300-pound junior Kirby Ennis has to be fantastic after spending the last year working his way back from a torn ACL making 11 tackles and 1.5 sacks as a key reserve. More of an athlete than a brick wall, his job will be to get behind the line and be disruptive.
Senior Jonathan Mathis was supposed to be a key part of the puzzle after making 41 tackles, but he suffered a knee injury three games in and only finished with two tackles. Formerly a 3-4 end, now the 6-3, 300-pounder will work as a more natural one-gap tackle and he should be a playmaker in the backfield now that he's fully healthy. If all goes according to plan, he'll be the team's best run stopper.
6-4, 250-pound junior Damontre Moore spent last season working at the hybrid Jack position, but now he's going to have to prove he can shine in a true end spot after dominating as a pass rusher finishing fourth on the team with 72 tackles with 8.5 sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss. With the impossible expectations of taking over for Von Miller, he was more than adequate in the role. Now he has to prove he can work in a more conventional position.
6-5, 277-pound senior Spencer Nealy, son of former NBA rebounder Ed Nealy, isn't a high-octane pass rusher on the end but he's a mainstay on the line making 45 tackles with 1.5 sacks and eight tackles for loss. Always working and always moving, he has a non-stop motor with the will to always be around the ball. While he's not going to be a superstar up front, he'll be a rock who'll clean things up the other linemen don't get to.
Can Gavin Stansbury finally stay healthy? The 6-4, 265-pound sophomore has the speed and talent to become a devastating pass rusher in a rotation with Nealy, but he hasn't had much luck with a knee injury keeping him down. While he has terrific upside on one side, 6-6, 245-pound speed rusher Brandon Alexander appears ready to be a big part of the fun after making 12 tackles in four games. This will be his job in place of Moore in the near future, while 6-2, 248-pound senior Caleb Russell will be a key backup after making 27 tackles with three sacks. The former walk-on isn't a top-shelf talent, but he's a good reserve.
Pushing hard for one of the tackle jobs will be 6-4, 295-pound redshirt freshman Shayvion Hatten, who appeared to be ready to roll as a true freshman before getting hurt. Beefed up, he has the size to go along with the attitude to become an anchor who will make things happen behind the line.
Watch Out For … Alexander. Nealy won't get pushed out of one end job and Moore is a star on the other side, but Alexander has the frame and the tools to be a pass rushing terror. There's a chance he could be a specialist who puts up huge numbers on third downs.
Strength: The pass rush from all four spots. This might not be a beefy group of linemen that will be a sure-thing against the run, but the tackles are extremely quick and should be able to find their way to the quarterback on a regular basis while the ends have the want-to to be disruptive.
Weakness: Tackles. The line was built and put together for the old 3-4 scheme, and while there are plenty of big ends, there aren't enough massive, bulky tackles to gum things up. Ennis and Mathis are 300 pounders, but they're pass rushers more than space-eaters.
Outlook: The line will be fine in time. What it will lack in hardcore toughness against the run will be made up for in activity and big plays in the backfield. Outside of Moore there isn't a special player in the group, but it'll be good enough to do its job to let the linebackers be the stars.
Unit Rating: 7.5
The defense needed Sean Porter to shine in place of Von Miller and he more than came through finishing third on the team with 79 tackles and a team-leading 9.5 sacks and 17 tackles for loss. At 6-2 and 230 pounds he's maxed out on his frame after beefing up, but he didn't lose any of his quickness and projects to be a whale of a weakside defender at the next level. Not just a pass rusher. He's tough against the run and has the speed to be decent in pass coverage if needed. However, his job will be to do a little of everything for the defense and will be turned loose to dominate in the backfield. Now he has to produce on a consistent basis with 8.5 of his sacks coming in the first half of the season being shut out over the last four games of the regular season.
With all the attention paid to Porter on one side, 6-2, 220-pound JUCO transfer Steven Jenkins should be in for a huge season at the other outside position. Good last year when he got his chances as a starter on the inside, he finished fifth on the team with 61 tackles, a sack and three tackles for loss. Looking far more comfortable as a 4-3 outside linebacker, he was dominant at times this offseason on the weakside showing he's ready to grow into an all-star.
Manning the middle will be veteran Jonathan Stewart, a rock of a 6-4, 244-pound senior who led the team with 98 tackles with three sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss. After going from being a backup on the outside to a steady playmaker in the interior, he appears to be ready to do even more after taking on more of a leadership role. He managed to get by on talent and athleticism last year, but now he looks ready to once again be a dominant run stopper with everything funneled his way.
Is sophomore Shaun Ward ready to be a factor? He was a top-shelf recruit with all the talent in the world but in desperate need of work on his conditioning. Now at 6-2 and 240 pounds he's a rock with excellent quickness and the versatility to play any of the three spots. He'll start out behind Stewart in the middle after making just one tackle last season, while 6-1, 220-pound junior Charlie Thomas appears ready for a bigger role behind Porter after making 30 tackles and a tackles for loss as a spot starter. Not all that big, he's tough for his size and he's a great hitter when he gets a bead on a ball-carrier.
Watch Out For … Jenkins. Great before, now he appears ready to take his game to a whole other level in the 4-3. He's fast, tough, and strong enough to be able to hold his own against the run against the bigger linemen. As a full-time starter he could be a threat to be the team's leading tackler.
Strength: The starting three. It's the SEC so there's linebacker talent all across the conference, but good luck finding a better trio than Porter, Stewart and Jenkins. These three should be the statistical stars of the conference with great pass rushing skill and tough experience against the run.
Weakness: Sure-thing backups. There's plenty of upside and lots of hope, but there's a big drop from the starting three to the reserves. Athleticism isn't a problem and there is plenty to be excited about, but the depth is a bit lacking.
Outlook: It's not like the linebacking corps didn't miss Von Miller, but after a year of working without him in the 3-4, the group should be even stronger with all three spots potentially manned by an all-star. Porter is a terror while Jenkins is a rising star on the other side and Stewart a rock in the middle.
Unit Rating: 9
The secondary wasn't exactly blown apart, but it failed time and again in the clutch and didn't come up with enough big plays despite getting help from the nation's top pass rush. 6-2, 190-pound sophomore Floyd Raven will try to bring some stability to the position after coming up with a great offseason after making six tackles in his debut. At 6-2 and 190 pounds he has the size to go along with the speed to eventually be the team's top shut-down corner. He'll be tested early, but the tools are there to handle the work.
Starting on the other side will be 6-0, 176-pound sophomore Deshazor Everett, a possible safety who's far more natural at corner. While he only made ten tackles and is too thin to hold up against the power teams on a regular basis, he's tough for his size and isn't afraid to come up and pop. He'll battle with 6-0, 175-pound senior Dustin Harris for the corner job. Harris made 33 tackles with two sacks with a pick and eight broken up passes after making four interceptions two seasons ago. Inconsistent, has to be a steadier playmaker both as a corner and in nickel and dime packages. He has the experience and the speed to be a big part of the rotation.
6-2, 206-pound sophomore Howard Matthews had problems last season in his first year. He made 28 tackles with two sacks and a broken up pass, and he got two starts at strong safety in the middle of the season, but he has to be stronger against the run and use his size to be a big factor. He might not be great in pass coverage, but he should be a statistical star with the job all his for the next few seasons unless former JUCO transfer Johntel Franklin can shine. At 6-2 and 200 pounds he has excellent size and talent, but he didn't get on the field last season and now has to at least be a reliable backup.
Senior Steven Terrell got four starts and was a good backup the rest of the way finishing with 24 tackles with two picks. At 5-10 and 193 pounds he has decent size and he might be the team's fastest player. Now it all has to come together at free safety where he has to be more of a playmaker. The tools are all in place to be fantastic in all phases and could be a rock of a nickel defender if other options emerge at safety.
The most versatile defensive back is junior Tony Hurd, an ideal free safety at 5-9 and 180 pounds, but with the speed and ability to work at corner. He saw time over the last four games of last year at strong safety, finishing with 20 tackles, but he didn't do much of anything against the pass. He'll start out behind Terrell but will move around where needed.
Watch Out For … Raven. He's hardly a sure-thing starter at one corner spot, but he could end up shining with the smarts to always be in the right position and the athleticism to grow into the starting job.
Strength: Speed. There's no problem with wheels at all four spots and more speed to burn among the backups. This is an SEC-level group of athletes that should make up for several mistakes by being able to fly to the ball. However …
Weakness: Can anyone make a play? The Aggies finished with just seven interceptions and got ripped to shreds in crunch time game after game. A&M allowed close to 3,600 yards on the year with 19 scores, giving up 510 yards to Arkansas, two 400-yard days to Oklahoma State and Baylor, and too many big fourth quarters to good passers.
Outlook: The pass rush finished first in the nation but it didn't matter a lick to a porous secondary that didn't come up with nearly enough big plays. For good or bad the defensive backfield is starting from near-scratch with Terrell the only upperclassman in the starting rotation. It's going to be a work in progress, but fortunately, teams don't throw in the SEC like they do in the Big 12.
Unit Rating: 6
It's time for Taylor Bertolet to shine. The redshirt freshman is only 5-9 and 174 pounds, but he has a huge leg with range just inside 60 yards. Even so it'll be asking a lot to replace Randy Bullock, who nailed 29-of-33 kicks with 13-of-16 coming from beyond 40 yards.
the punting game was an issue last year, but senior Ryan Epperson is a veteran who has been around just long enough to potentially be better. Potentially. He only averaged 37.6 yards per kick two years ago, and while he averaged 41.2 yards per boot last year with 19 kicks put inside the 20 and forcing 20 fair catches, it wasn't enough. 6-3, 220-pound sophomore Drew Kaiser is being given every shot at the job after getting two tries averaging 45.5 yards per try.
Senior Dustin Harris was fantastic on punt returns averaging 18.6 yards per try with a score, while he dominated as a kickoff returner averaging 23.4 yards per try. He'll handle all the duties again.
Watch Out For … Bertolet. Bullock was special and it'll be impossible for Bertolet to be better, but there's a reason he was such a top recruit last year. He has the leg.
Strength: Harris. With so many nasty defenses to deal with, field position will be at a premium and Harris should provide it on punt returns.
Weakness: Punt coverage. The new coaching staff has to start from scratch on punt coverage after last year's unit allowed a whopping 17.2 yards per punt return. The coverage teams have to be far, far better.
Outlook: There's lots of work to be done on the coverage teams and in the punting game, but Harris will be good and Bertolet will end up being great. This will be a work in progress.
Unit Rating: 5.5
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