The Aggies are switching from the 3-4 defense to Mark Snyder's 4-3 "under" scheme. The Aggies will be multiple on defense and will run from 3-4 and 33-stack formations.
The move to the 4-3 has helped exacerbate depth issues on the defensive interior. A&M is going to be forced to play true freshmen at defensive tackle this season which is not a recipe for success in the SEC.
In the latest depth chart the Ags have Spencer Nealy and Kirby Ennis starting on the interior. Ennis is the starter at nose tackle while Nealy will start at weak side defensive tackle. Jonathan Mathis returns after a knee injury and should see significant time at both DT and NT.
Damontre Moore was second on the team with 8.5 sacks in 2011 and moves down to defensive end from outside linebacker. He should be one of the premier rush ends in the conference.
Gavin Stansbury will start at the strong side end spot. Stansbury played both end and nose guard in 2011 and had 15 tackles with 3.5 tackles for loss. Backing him up will be true freshman Julien Obioha who impressed the coaches to allow Nealy to move inside.
Tyrone Taylor will back up Moore at defensive end. He and other true freshmen Polo Mankainiu and Alonzo Williams will provide depth in 2012.
At linebacker the Ags return three starters from 2011. Sean Porter is a preseason All-American candidate at outside linebacker. Porter led the Aggies with sacks in 2011 with 9.5 to go along with 79 total tackles and 17 tackles for loss.
Jonathan Stewart will start at middle linebacker after leading the Ags with 98 tackles in 2011. The senior from Shreveport will give A&M a solid run stopper in the middle in the SEC.
Junior Steven Jenkins came on towards the end of the 2011 season and will start at the weak side OLB spot for A&M. Jenkins will be suspended for the first game of the 2012 season and will be replaced by sophomore Donnie Baggs.
True freshman Michael Richardson will back up Porter. Justin Bass is running second string at middle linebacker behind Stewart.
Overall the linebackers should be the strength of the Aggies' defense in 2012.
The most noticeable difference on the A&M defense in 2012 should be in the secondary. New secondary coach Marcel Yates has had an immediate impact. The coverage has been much tighter in practice since Yates' arrival.
Steven Campbell is the starter at strong safety. If he can stay healthy then he will be one of the top safeties in the conference. Senior Steven Terrell gets the start at the other safety spot. He came on late in the 2011 campaign.
At corner the Ags will start true freshman De'Vante Harris and sophomore Deshazor Everett. Harris impressed the coaches enough during Fall practices that he jumped ahead of multiple players with more experience.
Do not be surprised to see the coaches continue to shuffle the defensive backs around as the season goes on to try to find the best combination.
Tremaine Jacobs and Dustin Harris are also in the mix at the corner spots. Jacobs was an early enrollee from junior college. Harris has elite cover skills, but struggles immensely with consistency from play to play.
In 2011 the Aggie defense led the nation with 51 sacks. They also had one of the worst pass defenses in the nation and struggled to close out games in the second half. Expect the sack total to drop in 2012 but the defensive to be more opportunistic and create more turnovers.
With the scarcity of elite passing teams in the SEC. the Aggies' ranking against the pass should improve. The issue is on the defensive line where the depth concerns may contribute to A&M being overpowered at the point of attack.
To be successful in the SEC you have to be able to stop the run. The reality of the situation is that the Aggies do not have the manpower to do that on a consistent basis in 2012.