After watching the Texas A&M spring game, we learned a few things about the 2013 Aggies. The offense looked better than ever, as guys stepped up in a big way.
But what about the defense?
The offense can be as pretty and flashy as it likes, but the SEC is won on defense. Offense wins games, but defense wins championships—that defines this conference each and every year.
This defense knows it must improve after finishing ninth in the SEC last year. But was the performance in the spring game good enough to silence some of the critics entering fall camp?
The truth is that nobody knows for sure. We can break down the numbers, watch the game over and over and never receive a true answer. Why? Because the first-team defense was matched up against the second-team offense, and the second-team defense was matched against the first-team offense.
The second-team defense was run over time and time again by Johnny Manziel and company, as guys couldn't get off the field if their lives depended on it. The first-team defense performed much better, but much of that success was the result of playing against quarterbacks who can't seem to establish themselves as backups.
It wouldn't be fair to reach a verdict on a defense's performance after it played against two quarterbacks who have 11 combined pass attempts in their careers. For that reason, the first-team defense was able to hold its own and looked sharp on Saturday.
If Texas A&M were only to face rookie quarterbacks in the SEC this season, the Aggies would have no worries defensively. The problem is that AJ McCarron, Zach Mettenberger and James Franklin are on the schedule this year.
Also, if those mismatches weren't enough defensively, all three of those games will be played on national television. So head coach Kevin Sumlin and his coaching staff would have been foolish to do anything crazy in the spring game as far as coverages and formations go. Viewers saw a lot of basic stuff and standard looks.
Is the Texas A&M defense SEC-Championship caliber?
If the staff has been working on anything exotic during the spring to boost this defense, it was not shown during the spring game. It would have been insane to do so in a matchup that has no significance anyway. Also, the competition in the SEC was surely watching and looking for anything to use to its advantage as the regular season approaches.
While this may sound like the defense showed no progress at all, a few standouts did provide some encouragement.
Reggie Chevis, a 2013 recruit, proved to be tough in run support and likely earned immediate playing time. Former wide receiver Nate Askew was surprisingly good at his new position, getting to the quarterback a few times as a linebacker. I also enjoyed seeing the physicality of cornerback De’Vante Harris, who broke up a couple of passes and flew all over the field.
However, without seeing this group against actual competition in a real game, it isn't fair to say that the defense is on the same level as the offense and is ready to compete for an SEC title. There are a lot of new faces, the pass rush must continue to improve, and the rotation at linebacker still needs to be tweaked throughout the offseason.
Spring ball does not answer every question, and the defense remains a question mark for Texas A&M. Until the fall, football fans can continue to debate whether this team is truly an SEC contender.