2007 Texas A&M Preview - Defense

Posted May 6, 2007

Preview 2007 Texas A&M Aggies Defense

Texas A&M Aggies

Preview 2007 - Defense

- 2007 Texas A&M Preview | 2007 Texas A&M Offense Preview
2007 Texas A&M Depth Chart | 2006 CFN Texas A&M Preview 

What you need to know: First of all, realize what amazing strides the defense made under defensive coordinator Gary Darnell. The pass defense was the worst in the nation in 2005 and became more than just respectable last season in a 4-2-5 alignment that led to a solid year until the Holiday Bowl meltdown against Cal. There wasn't enough of a pass rush outside of Chris Harrington, but that could change if tackle Red Bryant is healthy again and occupies two blockers on the inside. There aren't any all-stars in the back seven, but it's a good, sound group that will do just enough to get by.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Devin Gregg, 64
Sacks: Chris Harrington, 7.5
Interceptions: Mark Dodge, Devin Gregg, Jordan Peterson, 2

Star of the defense: Junior FS Devin Gregg
Player that has to step up and become a star: Junior DE Cyril Obiozor
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore NT Kellen Heard
Best pro prospect: Senior DT Red Bryant
Top three all-star candidates: 1) DE Chris Harrington, 2) Gregg, 3) Bryant
Strength of the defense: Experience, cornerback
Weakness of the defense:
Pass rush outside of Harrington

Defensive Line

Projected Starters
The line didn't generate nearly enough pressure into the backfield, but it wasn't Chris Harrington's fault. The 6-5, 265-pound senior finished fourth on the team with 59 tackles while leading the way with 7.5 sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss. The most consistent player on the defense, he upped his all-around game in a big way from his sophomore to junior year and now should be a lock for All-Big 12 honors.

On the other side will be junior Cyril Obiozor, who slimmed down, got in better shape, and became a decent reserve getting two starts making 33 tackles. He has the potential to become a pass rusher and needs to flourish with the attention paid to Harrington on the other side.

6-5, 324-pound senior Red Bryant had a nice year, but he wasn't the future Pro Bowl star many expected him to be making 19 tackles and a sack before missing the last most of the second half of the season with a knee problem that eventually required surgery. He's not going to collapse the pocket and get into the backfield, but he's a good anchor against the run and is fantastic at using his size to make it hard to get the ball over with five broken up passes and a blocked extra point against Oklahoma State to seal the win.

 6-3, 307-pound senior Henry Smith will take over on the nose after making 21 tackles. The former JUCO transfer should be great along with Bryant against the run and has just enough quickness to make a few tackles for loss now and then.

Projected Top Reserves: Junior Michael Bennett is a 6-4, 265-pound top backup who made 24 tackles, two sacks, and 5.5 tackles for loss. With his size, he's good against the run playing behind Obiozor this year, and he'll make the occasional big play to be a disruptive force.

6-6, 330-pound sophomore Kellen Heard is the team's biggest lineman playing on the nose behind Smith. He stepped in and played a big role when Bryant had problems and became a great run stopper with two sacks against Nebraska. He's very strong, very athletic, and talented enough to become a starter.   
Watch Out For ... the line to be better as long as everyone's healthy. The emergence of Smith on the nose and Obiozor and Bennett at one end should be just enough to improve the all-around production, but Bryant has to be back from his knee injury and Harrington can't miss an extended period of time.
Strength: Size. Some teams would love to have tackles the size of A&M's ends, and there's more size in reserve. This group won't be pushed around.
Weakness: Getting into the backfield. Harrington is a proven pass rusher, and that's it. A&M finished last in the Big 12, and 108th in the nation, in tackles for loss and 11th in the league in sacks. That's inexcusable this year for a line this experienced and good.
Outlook: There should be better production considering the returning talent. Stopping the run will be priority one in the Big 12, but front four has to start generating more pressure and being far more disruptive. Getting the backups more experience is a must.
Rating: 7


Projected Starters
It all starts in the middle with senior Misi Tupe, a 5-10, 253-pound tacklers who earned Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year honors after coming over from the JUCO ranks and making 54 tackles. He's not great against the pass and he's not going to be sent into the backfield, but he's a great leader and the quarterback for the back seven.

On the strongside is 222-pound senior Mark Dodge, who s
erved four years in the Army, and was in the Pentagon on September 11th, before going the JUCO route on his way to A&M where he was a solid backup last season making 43 tackles highlighted by a brilliant 17-stop day against Nebraska. Toughness certainly isn't a problem, and neither is experience at 26 years old. He doesn't miss tackles, but he's not a pass rusher and is just average when the ball is in the air. 

Projected Top Reserves: Backing up Tupe in the middle is 249-pound sophomore Anthony Lewis, a top recruit last year who saw a little bit of time right away playing in ten games. He's big, a great tackler, and should be the all-around playmaker that Tupe isn't. Eventually.

Playing behind Dodge will be sophomore Matt Featherston bringing 6-3, 243-pound size and good experience starting as a redshirt freshman against The Citadel making four stops and finishing with 23 tackles. The best athlete in the linebacking corps, he could see time when the defense goes to a 4-3.

On the way is freshman
Derrick Stephens, a dream strongside linebacker who might not get in the mix right away, but will be one of the top tacklers in the near future.
Watch Out For ... the linebackers to play with three from time-to-time. The 4-2-5 works, but there wasn't enough pressure generated in the backfield and more could be done against the run. Putting in Featherston or Lewis would be a good boost.
Strength: Toughness. Tupe and Dodge aren't going to miss any tackles and will be rocks against the run, but ...
Weakness: Range. It's not like the linebackers are going to be flying all over the field. They're more like extra defensive linemen against the run and allow the back five to deal with the pass.
Outlook: Losing leading tackler Justin Warren hurts, but Dodge should be a stat-filler and a rock of the defense. Featherston is an up-and-coming star and Lewis should be better with more work. Almost by design, this group will be good, but not phenomenal.
Rating: 6.5

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters
The corners should be one of the strengths of the defense with the return of junior Danny Gorrer and sophomore Jordan Peterson after decent years. Gorrer has good size at 6-0 and 181 pounds and some of the best speed on the team. He's a good tackler making 52 stops, but he has to do more when the ball is in the air and has to attack it with only three broken up passes. Peterson earned some all-star honors after a great freshman year making 29 tackles with eight broken up passes. The former high school quarterback has excellent speed and is just scratching the surface of how good he can become.

Three safeties are used in the A&M scheme and all need to be physical tacklers. Junior Devin Gregg is the lone returning starter coming off a 64-tackles, two interception season. A phenomenal athlete who can jump out of the stadium, he'll get even more room to roam as the starting free safety. He should be the team's best all-around defensive back.

Taking over at the WHIP will be sophomore Jordan Pugh, who saw time in every game making just two tackles. He was considered a top corner prospect coming out of high school and needs to be great in pass coverage.

Stepping in for top playmaker Melvin Bullitt at strong safety will be junior Alton Dixon coming off a ten tackle season. He's 5-11 and 207 and packs a punch. Look for him to become an intimidating force now that he has a bigger role.   

Projected Top Reserves: Junior Arkeith Brown had a great year as a reserve making 21 tackles and four broken up passes showing off his tremendous athleticism and speed. He hasn't been quite able to crack the starting lineup on a regular basis but has more than enough experience to step in if needed at either corner spot and could see a little action at safety.

Senior Marquis Carpenter will back up Peterson at the other corner spot after making 15 tackles and breaking up two passes. The former JUCO transfer has seen plenty of time and is a reliable reserve, but he's not a starter.

6-1, 185-pound DeMaurier Thompson isn't quite the all-around athlete Gregg is at free safety, but he's not far off. Despite not being all that big, he was a great defensive end and linebacker in high school with the speed to translate into a strong starter in time.
Watch Out For ... the corners to be better than the stats might indicate. Gorrer and Peterson aren't highlight reel defenders, but they can play. Peterson's an emerging star.
Strength: Depth. That might seem strange considering the Aggies use five defensive backs, but Brown and Carpenter are great reserves and Thompson is on the rise. Sophomore Chevar Bryson and redshirt freshman Kenny Brown are promising.
Weakness: Interceptions. It would be nice if there were more. The defensive backs are good in coverage, and now they have to start taking the ball away more.
Outlook: Having five defensive backs on the field worked out well considering there was no pass rush to help out the overall cause. While there aren't a slew of all-stars to get excited about, this is a sound, decent group that should hold its own against the pedestrian Big 12 passing games and do fine against most of the top ones. Remember, A&M had the worst pass defense in America in 2005 and made great strides.
Rating: 7

Special Teams

Projected Starters
Receiver Kerry Franks is one of the premier
kick returners in America averaging 27.7 yards per try with a 99-yard return for a score, while Pierre Brown isn't a bad sidekick averaging 24.8 yards per try. Corner Jordan Peterson will take over the punt return duties after Chad Schroeder averaged 7.4 yards per try.

The big concern is at placekicker where sophomore Matt Szymanski will take over for the rock-solid Layne Neumann, who went 12 of 13 from inside the 40 and missed three kicks on the year with all three getting blocked. With a big leg, Szymanski will bring more range.

Junior punter Justin Brantly had a great year averaging 44.3 yards per kick putting 14 inside the 20. He could use a little more hang-time on his kicks, but the coaching staff would happily take another season like 2006.
Watch Out For ... the corners to be better than the stats might indicate. Gorrer and Peterson aren't highlight reel defenders, but they can play. Peterson's an emerging star.
Strength: Kickoff returns. Talk about making a huge improvement, A&M was last in the Big 12 in kickoff returns in 2005 and third in the nation in 2007 thanks to Franks.
Weakness: Szymanski's reliability. Six A&M games were decided by four points or fewer. There should be just as many close battles this year and Szymanski has to hit everything within 40 yards against the top teams.
Outlook: Things are far better than they were a few years ago, and even in 2005, especially with the return units. The punt coverage team could stand to be a bit better, but that's nitpicking. As long as Szymanski has a good year, everything will be fine.
Rating: 7


Related Stories
2007 Texas A&M Preview - Depth Chart
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  May 6, 2007
2007 Texas A&M Preview
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  May 6, 2007
Aggie football podcast
 -by AggieDigest.com  Sep 6, 2007

Add Topics to My HotList
Get free email alerts with news about your favorite topics. Click link to add to My HotList.
Football > Texas A&M
[View My HotList]