Texas A&M Must Find a Way to Generate a Pass Rush This Spring

Barrett SalleeSEC Football Lead WriterMarch 4, 2013

Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin
Texas A&M head coach Kevin SumlinUSA TODAY Sports

With quarterback Johnny Manziel, offensive tackle Jake Matthews, wide receiver Mike Evans, a talented group of running backs that goes four-deep returning, and a talent infusion coming this summer, it's safe to say that the Texas A&M offense will be just fine in 2013 despite the loss of former offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury.

The defense, on the other hand, is a different story.

The Aggies are returning just four starters in 2013 off of a defense that finished last season ninth in the SEC in total defense (390.2 YPG). 

Great defenses begin up front, and finding a pass rush this spring is of utmost importance to head coach Kevin Sumlin, defensive coordinator Mark Snyder and the Aggies coaching staff.

The loss of defensive end Damontre Moore and his 12.5 sacks is the most notable loss from the 2012 squad; but Moore is only the headliner of Texas A&M's laundry list of defensive holes to fill.

Linebackers Sean Porter and Jonathan Stewart are also gone, along with defensive lineman Spencer Nealy.

All told, the Aggies lost 63 percent of their sack production from last season, with linebackers Steven Jenkins (2.0) and Donnie Baggs (1.5) representing the top performers from a year ago. But Jenkins will miss spring practice with a torn labrum, along with expected starter at defensive end Julien Obioha (back).

Job No. 1 for Sumlin this spring is to find the next wave of Aggie pass-rushers. 

When you have an offense that's as dynamic as A&M's, all that's needed to become a legitimate title contender is a defense that's opportunistic. Putting pressure on the quarterback and forcing turnovers is a great way to do that.

One piece of that puzzle will likely be defensive end Brandon Alexander, who is battling Gavin Stansbury for the starting spot at defensive end on the Aggies' spring depth chart. Don't count on that for long, though.

The 6'6", 245-pounder is a perfect fit to slide into Moore's old spot on the weak side and could become a star sooner rather than later. He played as a freshman in 2011 before taking a redshirt in 2012 and spending time in Sumlin's dog house.

Bleacher Report's Ian Berg says that Alexander has the most to prove of any Aggie this spring. If he plays well, it will go a long way towards rebuilding the defense.

With cornerbacks De'Vante Harris and Deshazor Everett returning, and safety Floyd Raven moving to safety alongside Howard Matthews and Toney Hurd Jr., Texas A&M's secondary is legit. If the Aggies can generate a pass rush, the secondary is more than qualified to take advantage.

Despite all of the injuries on defense, solving the pass-rush riddle as much as possible could determine whether or not the Aggies take the next step and win the SEC West.

The Aggies open their SEC slate on Sept. 14 in College Station against the two-time defending champion Alabama. AJ McCarron will return at quarterback for the Crimson Tide, but three starters are gone off of last year's stellar offensive line. McCarron hasn't shown many weaknesses during his college career, and forcing him into quick decisions is about the only way he's going to make mistakes.

Texas A&M couldn't win the West last season, even with the head-to-head tiebreaker over Alabama; but putting that in the back pocket early in the season would create a dynamic in the SEC West that hasn't been present in the previous two seasons.