What you need to know ...
After finishing dead last in the nation in pass defense and
getting pushed around a bit too much against the run, A&M will
switch to a 4-2-5 defense under new defensive coordinator Gary
Darnell. The line is huge at all four spots, but there's no
sure-thing pass rusher for offenses to be concerned with. Justin
Warren is an All-Big 12 caliber linebacker, and he'll need to
play like it as the leader of the back seven. There's speed and
potential in a secondary that can't be any worse.
Justin Warren, 95
Chris Harrington, 4
Interceptions: Marquis Carpenter, 4
Star of the defense: Senior LB Justin Warren
Player that has to step up and become a star: Sophomore
CB Danny Gorrer
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore FS Devin Gregg
Best pro prospect: Warren
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Warren, 2) DT Red
Bryant, 3) DE Chris Harrington
Strength of the defense: Size on the line
Weakness of the defense:
Defensive back production
This is a huge line that has no excuse to not
be better against the run. Big Red Bryant is one of the nation's best
tackles and should be a terrific anchor to work around. With Jason Jack
back from being banged up last season, there are plenty of end options
to use in a rotation to find the right combination as the season goes
on. The back seven will do the blitzing, but any more of a push from the
front four would be a big plus.
The key to the unit: The Aggies need all four linemen to get in
the backfield on a regular basis. There's no speed rusher to rely on in
a pinch, so there will be blitzing from all angle to generate
pressure. The more the front line can pressure the quarterback, the
better the overall defense will be.
Defensive Line Rating: 6.5
- DE Chris Harrington, Jr. - 25 tackles, 4 sacks, 8 TFL
Harrington lost a little weight and became a better pass rusher, but the
D could use him to be more consistent and be in the backfield on a more
regular basis. At 6-5 and 263 pounds, he's still a solid defender and
needs to be more of a factor against the run.
- DT Bryce Reed, Sr. - 22 tackles, 1 sack, 3.5 TFL
Reed grew into a role in the middle as a key backup in every game. He's
a strong 304-pound veteran who needs to be a rock against the run with
all the attention paid to Red Bryant next to him.
- DT Red Bryant, Jr. - 28 tackles, 3 sacks, 7.5 TFL
Bryant is one of the nation's best unsung tackles with excellent
all-around talent and next level size at 6-5 and 330 pounds. He was the
team's best player against the run even though the stats might not show
it. He's a true anchor who should dominate any time he sees one blocker.
Expect him to become even better at getting into the backfield.
- DE Cyril Obiozor, Soph. - 13 tackles
The tackle-sized sophomore has to become a player against the run. He's
not going to be a regular pass rusher, but the 270 pounder does have
some moved to get into the backfield. He'll need to take advantage of
the attention being paid to Chris Harrington on the other side.
- DE Jason Jack, Jr. - 29 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 3 TFL
Jack wasn't able to build on a tremendous freshman season having
problems fighting through an ankle injury. When he's right, the 6-4,
275-pound junior can dominate. He'll start out behind Chris Harrington,
but it wouldn't be a shock if he saw starting time on the other side.
- DT Marquis Thornton, Sr. - 14 tackles, 1.5 TFL
Even at 288 pound, Thornton can play end as well as tackle. The solid
veteran will start out behind Red Bryant and will move where needed.
- DE Michael Bennett, Soph. - 27 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 4.5 TFL
After seeing four games of starting time as a true freshman, Bennett
will push Cyril Obiozor for the starting job. He's a great tackler with
the upside to eventually grow into an all-star when he starts seeing
The move to a 4-2-5 defensive alignment should allow the
linebackers a little more space to roam and make plays, but it should
also mean they have to be consistent decision makers. That's no problem
for Justin Warren, who should be one of the league's top defenders, but
25-year-old JUCO transfer Mark Dodge will need time before he becomes
reliable. Stephen Hodge and Matt Featherston could be explosive as
reserves unless new recruits Anthony Lewis and Misi Tupe take over early
The key to the unit: Be the stars. The chances will
be there to put up big numbers, but they have to be meaningful numbers.
Tackles 12 yards down the field won't help much.
Linebacker Rating: 7
- Mark Dodge, Jr.
One of college football's most interesting stories coming into the
season, the 219-pound Dodge served four years in the Army, and was in
the Pentagon on September 11th, before going to the JUCO route to try to
fulfill his dream of playing college football. He got to school early
and won a starting job coming out of spring ball. He's 25-years-old and
should be a leader for the front six.
- Justin Warren, Sr. - 95 tackles, 3 sacks, 6 TFL, 3 broken up
Warren has lived up to his recruiting hype and then some after leading
the team in tackles last season. He's a 245-pound guided missile who's
always around the ball and always cleaning things up. A first team
All-Big 12 selection last season, his numbers should skyrocket with more
room to roam in the 4-2-5 alignment.
- Stephen Hodge, Jr. - 13 tackles
A speed linebacker who bulked up over the last year to 230 pounds Hodge
will add more bulk and experience to one of the spots behind Mark Dodge.
He has the talent to be a more disruptive force and could see plenty of
action if the defense ever switches to a more conventional 4-3.
- Matt Featherston, RFr.
A phenomenal athlete, the 6-2, 250-pound redshirt freshman should become
a solid all-around playmakers behind Justin Warren. He has the potential
to be a tough tackler with the quickness to be a regular in the
The secondary went from bad to the worst in America allowing
a whopping 304.6 yards per game and seemingly never came up with a key
third down stop. Now there will be more help with a fifth defensive back
added to the mix to try to make more plays against the better passing
teams. There's plenty of speed on the corners, more than enough good
prospects to play around with the safety spots, and more talent on the
way with five recruits coming in who'll all get a chance to play.
The key to the unit: Don't bend, don't break, just
make more plays and make teams pay for throwing the ball.
Secondary Rating: 5.5
- CB Danny Gorrer, Soph. - 30 tackles, 7 broken up passes
One of the team's fastest players, Gorrer should be able to make up for
most mistakes with his recovery speed. He had some major problems last
season as he learned the ropes of being a starter, but with his ability
he should grow into one of the team's better playmakers.
- WHIP Arkeith Brown, Soph. - 13 tackles
Brown saw action as a true freshman mostly doing a little of everything
on special teams. While he's not all that big at 6-0 and 175 pounds,
he's a phenomenal athlete who can jump out of the stadium. With his
speed and range, he should be a great fit for the WHIP position in the
- FS Devin Gregg, Soph. - 31 tackles, 1 sack, 2 TFL
Gregg didn't see the field until halfway through his true freshman
season, and then he turned into a big-time producer making 31 stops in
six games including eight against Oklahoma. He's a sure-hitting 5-11 and
195 pounds who's smart enough to become one of the leaders in the
- SS Mevlin Bullitt, Sr. - 59 tackles, 2 interceptions, 3 TFL, 3
broken up passes, 2 forced fumbles
A quality reserve over his first two seasons, Bullitt became a solid
starter at strong safety finishing fourth on the team in tackles and a
decent ball-hawker. He packs a wallop on his hits, but he needs to make
more plays when the ball is in the air.
- CB Jordan Peterson, RFr.
Back after missing almost all of last year after getting hurt against
SMU, the speedy Peterson should provide instant help for the struggling
secondary. He was a star high school quarterback and defensive back as
well as a top relay man on the track team. While he might need a while
before he figures out what he's doing, his athleticism will be a big
- FS Japhus Brown, Jr. - 20 tackles
Brown was one of the team's top defensive backs over the first four
games and appeared to be on his way to a huge season before hurting his
knee and missing the rest of the season. At the very least, he'll be a
top backup behind Devin Gregg, but he'll more likely work his way into
the fifth defensive back spot once he's 100%.
- CB Marquis Carpenter, Jr. - 28 tackles, 4
interceptions, 6 broken up passes
The former JUCO transfer ended up starting six times last season and led
the team in interceptions. He'll likely be used in several situations as
both a corner and as a fifth defensive back to get his ball-hawking
skills on the field, but he'll start out playing behind Danny Gorrer.
- CB Jordan Pugh, Fr.
One of the team's faster players, the 5-11, 180-pound true freshman is
expected to push for time right off the bat. He ran a 10.6 100-meters in
high school as he grew into one of the nation's better corner prospects.
He'll have to get used to being picked on after not seeing many passes
his way over the last few years.
The potential is there for the kicking game to be
decent as long as Layne Neumann can be an average short to midrange
field goal kicker. Getting more out of the return game is a must after
finishing last in the Big 12 in kickoff returns. Courtney Lewis will
handle kickoffs while Chad Schroeder will try to provide more pop on
The key to the unit: Improve in all areas. This is an
area that needs a lot of work before the opener.
Special Teams Rating: 6
- PK Layne Neumann, Sr. - 0-2 FGs
The strong-legged Neumann goes from being the kickoff and long-range man
to replacing the steady Todd Pegram. He'll get plenty of chances to
crank out long kicks, but he'll have to prove he can be consistent from
- P Justin Brantly, Soph. - 46 punts, 1,989 yds, 43.2 ypc, 10
inside the 20
Brantly bombed away for a big average and wasn't bad at placing the ball
deep, but he has to work far better with his coverage unit after A&M
finished 11th in the league in net punting. He only forced two fair