2008 Texas A&M Preview - Defense
Texas A&M DE Cyril Obiozor
Texas A&M DE Cyril Obiozor
Posted May 20, 2008

CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - Texas A&M Aggie Defense

Texas A&M Aggies

Preview 2008 - Defense

- 2008 CFN Texas A&M Preview | 2008 Texas A&M Offense
- 2008 Texas A&M Defense | 2008 Texas A&M Depth Chart
- 2007 CFN Texas A&M Preview | 2006 CFN Texas A&M Preview

What you need to know: After an awful 2005, Gary Darnell had turned things around and made the Aggie defense respectable over the last few season, but it was a tentative, read-and-react D that didn't do nearly enough to get to the quarterback and dictate the action. That all changes under Joe Kines as the defense is going to be far more aggressive and will try to generate far more pressure after finishing 104th in the nation in sacks and 90th in tackles for loss. The problem is the talent level; it's not all that high, and there's not a lot of starting experience on the front seven. However, the linebacking corps will go from lumbering to sleek and fast, and there are plenty of veterans in the secondary to count on. The line has to be better, and it should be if everyone stays healthy. However, the tackles will be an issue outside of Kellen Heard.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Jordan Pugh, 90
Sacks: Cyril Obiozor, 3.5
Interceptions: Devin Gregg, Jordan Peterson, 1

Star of the defense: Junior DT Kellen Heard
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior DE Amos Gbunblee
Unsung star on the rise: Redshirt freshman LB Garrick Williams
Best pro prospect: Heard
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Heard, 2) DE Cyril Obiozor, 3) LB Matt Featherston
Strength of the defense: Defensive back experience, quick linebackers
Weakness of the defense:
Pass rush, front seven starting experience

Defensive Line

Projected Starters
The line hasn't come up with a pass rush for a few years, but it gets leading sacker Cyril Obiozor back. The 6-4, 264-pound senior, the only returning starter to the line, made 39 tackles and 3.5 sacks with 9.5 tackles for loss after slimming down and getting in better shape. He's not a natural, sure-thing pass rusher, but he's good enough to produce here and there if he has help around him.

Taking over on the other side, in place of Chris Harrington, will be senior Amos Gbunblee, who'll be a part of rotation but could quickly become the team's best pass rusher. The 6-5, 250-pounder played in every game making 13 tackles and just half a sack, but he managed to be in the backfield throughout the off-season.

About to blow up and become an All-Big 12 star is junior Kellen Heard, a 6-6, 345-pound wall on the inside who made 37 tackles with a sack and 4.5 tackles for loss. He played in every game and started the bowl game against Penn State. Keeping his weight in check is the key, but if he can get in even better shape, he should be a presence in the backfield and the anchor against the run.

Sophomore Lucas Patterson needs to become a star. The 6-4, 297-pounder saw a little bit of work last year making 24 tackles with 1.5 sacks and 2.5 tackles for loss, including a start against Penn State, and while he was decent and should be fine going into this year, he needs to be more productive. He's decent against the run, but he's not going to fly into the backfield too often.

Projected Top Reserves: While Gbunblee is a promising new end, he might give way to senior Michael Bennett early on. The 6-4, 261-pounder made 43 tackles with a sack and six tackles for loss, and while has the size and the experience, he needs to be a better pass rusher. He also needs to get to the classroom on a more regular basis after missing spring ball. If he wants it, he'll be a great one.

JUCO transfer Matt Moss got to school early and turned into a possible answer for the pass rushing problems. He's a very quick, very active all-around end who was considered one of the nation's top JUCO recruits coming out of Grossmont CC in California. While he's not huge at 6-3 and 252 pounds, he's tough.

The line desperately needs depth at tackle meaning 6-4, 269-pound senior Chris Smith needs to be a presence. He's not going to dominate anyone and he'll get pushed around way too much, but he has a little bit of experience making six tackles last season.
Watch Out For ... more of a pass rush. The coaching staff is making a concerted effort to bring more pressure, and it needs the ends to provide it or else the scheme will start to get a bit quirky.
Strength: Potential on the end. Obiozor isn't special, but he's a serviceable veteran. Gbunblee and Moss are promising, and Bennett, if he decides he wants to be a star, will be.
Weakness: Tackles. Heard will be an All-Big 12 star. That's about it. Patterson and Smith need to surprise, while 292-pound David Tafuga has to bring more than just size.
Outlook: This could be a problem unless several prospects surprise. Outside of Heard, there's no star power whatsoever and there needs to be someone who can get into the backfield on a regular basis. On the positive side, last year's veteran group didn't produce jack squat when it came to getting to the quarterback while the run defense was mediocre. In other words, the lost starters are replaceable.
Rating: 6


Projected Starters
The linebacking corps will revolve around junior Matt Featherston, who'll take over for second-leading tackler Misi Tupe in the middle. While the 6-2, 235-pound junior isn't all that athletic and he isn't going to show too much range, but he's a pure player who makes things happen. A good run stuffer, he made 33 tackles last year, but he's not going to do much when it comes to getting into the backfield.

Stepping in for Mark Dodge, who led the team with 117 tackles, will be Garrick Williams on the strongside. The 6-2, 217-pound redshirt freshman went from being considered a top backup to one of the team's new star defenders. While he's built like a safety, he's tough and has a great ability to find the way to the ball.

Starting on the weakside will be sophomore Von Miller, a 6-3, 214-pound speedster who has more ability than anyone in the linebacking corps, but he has to turn into a playmaker both against the pass and as a pass rusher. He'll be turned loose in the more attacking scheme, after making 22 tackles and two sacks with four tackles for loss, and he'll have to work through his mistakes by being aggressive.

Projected Top Reserves: The strongside job was supposed to go to Anthony Lewis before Williams turned into a major prospect. Able to play inside or out, and likely start out the season in the middle behind Featherston, he'll be like a fourth starter as he moves in and out of the lineup. The top recruit of a few years ago is 6-2, 254 pounds, and strong against the run making 22 tackles last season.

6-1, 216-pound junior Will Harris has been a special teams star and a defensive back, and now he'll work on the strongside to get more speed and quickness into the corps. While he's not big, he can move.
Watch Out For ... this to be the team's breakthrough unit. After dealing with the read-and-react style of the old coaching staff, this year's group will bring the noise and bring the funk. There will be plenty of mistakes, but they'll be flying all over the field.
Strength: Speed and quickness. By design, this year's group will be full of very quick, very athletic linebackers who'll fit the new style perfectly. This group is the exact opposite of last year's corps.
Weakness: Sure things. There's a lot of promise and plenty of potential but there are plenty of concerns among the three starters, much less the backups. The coaching staff is going to need a little while to mold this group.
Outlook: Defensive coordinator Joe Kines is a linebacker coach who'll demand perfection out of his corps. Unlike last year's big, lumbering threesome that was put together to hold up against the run, this year's smallish, lighter corps will be used to wreak havoc. It'll be a whole bunch more fun, and the stats will be there, but this is still the team's biggest question mark (even bigger than the O line).
Rating: 6

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters
The corners struggled last year, but at least they return with plenty of experience. The key will be the health of Danny Gorrer, the 6-0, 173-pound senior who made 30 tackles and broke up a pass before going down for the year with a knee injury. While he missed all off-season, he's expected to be back early this fall at close to 100% bring some of the best wheels in the secondary.

On the other side will be junior Jordan Pugh, former weakside defender, starting every game last year in a hybrid role in the 4-2-5 alignment. While he was a great tackler, making 90 stops, he was also one of the team's best pass defenders breaking up six passes. At 5-11 and 191 pounds, he has decent size and is physical.

One of the big changes this spring was moving junior Jordan Peterson, after being inconsistent in coverage as a corner, to free safety where he should be far better. The 5-10, 184-pounder is an excellent tackler, making 18 tackles with an interception in the rotation, and now he should be one of the team's best playmakers in a more natural position.

Working at strong safety will be senior Devin Gregg, the starter in every game at free safety last season where he made 74 tackles with an interception and three broken up passes. A strong veteran who'll be the leader of the defensive backfield, he should be far better now that he can concentrate more on the run and won't have to do quite as much when the ball is in the air. Even though he's a phenomenal athlete, he's more of a strong safety than a free safety.  

Projected Top Reserves: 6-0, 174-pound senior Arkeith Brown stepped in and started over the second half of last season finishing with 51 tackles and eight broken up passes. While he's a big-time athlete who'll see time in several spots, he had problems against speed, deep-ball receivers and he didn't come up with an interception. At worst, he'll be a key nickel and dime defender.

Sure to be in the mix somewhere at some point is Alton Dixon, the team's fourth leading tackler with 77 stops, two sacks and five tackles for loss. Likely a backup at strong safety, the 5-11, 197-pounder hits like a ton of bricks, but is inconsistent in pass coverage.

One of the stars of spring ball was junior Chevar Bryson, a 5-11, 182-pound special teamer who saw a little time on defense making 16 tackles. A great hitter for his size, he'll make a big push for one of the safety spots, possible strong safety, and will see far more time as a defender.
Watch Out For ... a lot of shifting around. Johnathan Baston moved from corner to free safety, Gorrer might not be 100% until right before the start of the year, and the strong safety job could be a revolving door with several options to play around with.
Strength: Corner potential. They got no help whatsoever last season from the pass rush, or the lack of one, and now there should be more of a push from the front four. Gorrer, Brown, Pugh, and Marcus Gold aren't good enough to keep teams from throwing the ball, but they should grow into a solid foursome.
Weakness: Interceptions. This has been a problem for the last few seasons. There were only eight last year, and four came from Marquis Carpenter, the one defensive back gone from the mix. The corners have to do far more when the ball is in the air.
Outlook: This was a decent secondary last season that got little help from the rest of the defense. While there aren't any all-stars, there's more experience here than anywhere else on the defense and it should be one of the few areas the coaching staff won't have to worry about too much. Now there has to be more production in all phases.
Rating: 6.5

Special Teams

Projected Starters
There should be a battle for the placekicking job with Matt Szymanski returning after hissing 15 of 25 kicks. He struggled with his consistency enough to allow senior Richie Bean to step in and possibly be the new main man. With a bigger leg, he should at least show more range.

One of the team's top players, and an All-America candidate, is junior Justin Brantly, who led the Big 12's best punting game netting 39.17 yards per boot. Brantly followed up a season with a 44.3-yard average by bombing away again for 44.2 yards per kick putting 16 inside the 20. He's a weapon who'll be a godsend for field position.

Randle Jackson will take over the punt return duties, and things can't be much worse after the Aggies averaged 5.4 yards per try. Pierre Brown and E.J. Shankle will return kickoffs as they take over for Kerry Franks. Brown averaged 21.5 yards per try, and the team average 23.5 yards per try.
Watch Out For ... Bean as the new placekicker. The offense needs to know it can close of decent drives with points, and Bean should be able to increase the overall range of the kicking game.
Strength: Brantly. On the short list of top options for the Ray Guy Award, he's arguably the team's best defensive player because of what he can do to bail the offense out of jams.
Weakness: Certainty at placekicker. The kicking game didn't lose games for the Aggies last year, but it wasn't much help. Someone has to step up and take the job.
Outlook: There are some fantastic parts, like the punting and kickoff returns, mixed in with some sore areas, the placekicking and punt returns, but the coaching staff is paying special attention to the special teams and are making them a priority.
Rating: 6