Texas A&M Football: Why 2012 Defensive Line Should Tremble at Playing the SEC
In a few days Texas A&M will officially enter the Southeastern Conference. The Aggies' inaugural season will present a huge test for their defensive line.
The league of champions is also the league of dominant offensive and defensive lines. While the Aggies' O-line returns all five starters, the defensive line lost two starters and is switching to a new 4-3 scheme. The switch in schemes means that a thin defensive line got even thinner.
The Aggies' O-line will be one of the toughest in the league while the D-line may be one of the weakest. This is a look at why Aggie fans should be wary about their defensive line in 2012.
Lack of Depth
The Aggies hired Mark Snyder to run the defense. He will run multiple packages on defense but the base is a 4-3 "under" scheme. That means the Aggies will play four defensive linemen on the field most of the time.
Under Mike Sherman, A&M was recruiting to a 3-4 scheme that employed three defensive linemen. The only advantage the Aggies have is that Snyder's 4-3 "under" scheme is very similar to Tim DeRuyter's 3-4 scheme. Former outside linebackers Damontre Moore and Brandon Alexander should have a seamless transition from OLB to the weak-side defensive end spot.
The real issue the Aggies are going to face is on the interior where they do not have much depth. Kirby Ennis and Jonathan Mathis are going to start at nose tackle and defensive tackle, respectively. They should be solid SEC linemen. After those two, there are no proven players on the interior.
Change in Scheme
Even though the 4-3 scheme Mark Snyder is installing employs a lot of the same principles as DeRuyter's 3-4 scheme, the Aggies should still be expected to experience some growing pains.
Do not be surprised to see some confusion and mistakes in alignments over the first few games of the season. The fact that the Aggies are running multiple fronts may add to that confusion.
The defensive linemen will have to learn how to line up in a 4-3, 3-4, 3-3 stack and 4-2-5 alignments. There will be new responsibilities for everyone to learn. It is a lot to process in a limited period of time.
Facing Dominant Offensive Lines
In 2011, LSU almost proved that you could win a national title without a quarterback. The Tigers relied on their defense and a punishing running game to lead them to a 13-1 record.
The Aggie defense is well aware of how dominant the LSU O-line can be, having allowed 288 yards rushing to the Tigers in the 2010 Cotton Bowl.
Alabama beat LSU in the 2011 BCS Championship Game and returns four starters on its offensive line. The 'Bama O-line is so deep that All-American Barrett Jones is moving from left tackle to center to make way for sophomore Cyrus Kouandjio to start at left tackle.
The Aggie defensive line will have to face the offensive line from LSU, Alabama and every other SEC West team. That is a daunting task for any defensive line.
Youth Will Have to Play
Because of the lack of depth at the defensive line position, the Aggies are going to be forced to play some of their incoming defensive line recruits immediately.
Edmund Ray has the size to play immediately in the SEC at 6'5" and over 300 pounds. The rest of the incoming linemen could probably use a redshirt year in order to gain size and strength before being thrust into the most physical conference in the country.
The Aggies do not have that kind of luxury so you should expect to see some true freshmen defensive linemen playing significant minutes against Florida in A&M's second game of the season.
It should be a trial by fire for the Aggies' youthful group. The use of freshmen defensive linemen bodes well for the future, but fans should expect them to be overwhelmed in 2012.
Lack of Size
The game is not played on paper, but on paper the Aggies' defensive line looks like it will be overwhelmed in 2012.
Ivan Robinson is the second-string defensive tackle at 260 pounds. He simply does not have the size to compete with the SEC's monster offensive lines. Ideally Robinson would offer the Aggie coaches a nice pass-rushing option to play 10 to 20 snaps per game.
However, Robinson is only one injury away from starting at defensive tackle in the SEC. Unfortunately, Robinson has not been able to gain much weight in the Aggies' strength and conditioning program.
The A&M coaches are going to have to hope that the incoming freshmen can help out because Robinson does not have the size to start in this league.
The SEC's Week-to-Week Grind
This Aggie team is going to face a week-to-week grind like these players have never faced before. Not since the 1970s in the Southwest Conference has an Aggie defensive line faced such tough rushing teams on a weekly basis.
The SEC is a physical conference, and the grind can beat down teams. That is the reason the Aggies needs more depth. Even the best teams suffer injuries on their lines due to the season-long grind.
The Aggies will adjust to the physical nature of the conference as Kevin Sumlin builds the program up through recruiting. This season Aggie fans will have to be patient as the players adjust to the physical rigors of SEC play.