The Texas A&M football team enters the 2013 season with a Top 10 ranking in the USA Today college football coaches poll and a legitimate chance at winning the national championship. Defense is the key to winning championships, and the Ags 2013 defense will be one of the school's best in recent memory.
The Aggies lost six starters from their 2012 defense that allowed 390 yards and 21 points per game. Texas A&M defensive coordinator Mark Snyder will have to replace these starters and find a way to improve on their 2012 performance.
When you coach a college football team, you learn to adjust to change. Each new year brings a different group of players and a new set of challenges.
Snyder spent the 2012 season implementing his defensive scheme and cajoling the maximum effort out of a group of players that had good but not great talent. The 2013 version of the defense will be short on experience but very high on talent.
This unit has the talent in place to help lead the team to a dream season. This is a look at why the Texas A&M defense is of championship quality.
Mark Snyder will begin his second season as Texas A&M's defensive coordinator in 2013. He had a very successful year in 2012, when the Aggie defense held its own in the Southeastern Conference, despite some personnel issues.
The 2012 defense had 11 good starters and not much beyond that. Snyder used multiple schemes to keep the opposition off-balance. He was not afraid to move players around to gain an advantage.
Snyder had cornerback Deshazor Everett start at safety in two games. He also switched the positions of Spencer Nealy and Kirby Ennis on the defensive line against Alabama. Snyder felt that Alabama center Barrett Jones would struggle with Nealy's quickness.
His premonition proved correct, and Nealy's ability to wreak havoc on the interior was a major part of the Ags' victory in Tuscaloosa. Snyder's willingness to make changes is a tremendous asset.
The fundamental tenet of Snyder's defense is to stop the run. Once you stop the run and force an offense to become one-dimensional, then you can pressure the quarterback and shut down the offense.
In 2012 the Ags were able to consistently stop the run by allowing only 3.7 yards per carry. This emphasis on the run is especially important in the SEC, where most offenses are built around their ability to run the ball.
Snyder has been a defensive coordinator at Ohio State, South Florida and A&M. He has shown the ability to adjust to the personnel available to put an effective defense on the field at all three schools.
The Ags will have one of the best defenses in the SEC in 2013 because they have one of the best defensive coordinators in the country running it.
The 2013 version of the Aggie defense will actually look like an SEC defense when they get off the bus. They will have more depth and size on the defensive line than they did in 2012.
There is no magic weight for a football player to be in order to guarantee success. However, if your team is consistently undersized on the lines, then it stands to reason that it will struggle to match up with opponents on a consistent basis.
In 2012, the Aggie defense was undersized on the defensive line. The Aggie coaches fixed that problem by signing a deep recruiting class of defensive linemen.
The Aggie coaches signed three defensive tackles in Hardreck Walker, Justin Manning and Isaiah Golden, who all weigh more than 280 pounds. They have the size to compete in the SEC right away.
Walker, Manning and Golden will team up with returning starter Kirby Ennis to provide the Aggies with a two-deep rotation on the defensive line. Size alone is no guarantee of success, but the fact that the Ags can now rotate a fresh body in on the interior bodes well for the future.
In 2012, the Ags did not have a viable second option if Ennis or Spencer Nealy got tired. They have more depth in 2013 and that should lead to improved performance on the field.
Jonathan Stewart graduated after the 2012 season. He spent the previous two years as the starter at middle linebacker for the Aggies.
Junior linebacker Donnie Baggs has moved over from weak-side linebacker to the middle to take over for Stewart. Baggs is not as big as Stewart was, but he is faster on the field and should be more effective in pass coverage.
Tommy Sanders enrolled in the spring after transferring in from a junior college. He has excellent speed and is taking over Sean Porter's spot on the weak side.
Steven Jenkins returns as the starter on the strong side after registering 79 tackles and an interception in 2012. As a group, Baggs, Sanders and Jenkins will be faster on the field than the 2012 unit.
It will not be easy to replace Porter's ability to make big plays. However, the 2013 linebackers' increased athleticism should allow them as a group to be around the football more. Their increased speed should lead to more opportunities for creating turnovers and making big plays.
When the Aggies opened the 2012 season against the University of Florida, the starting cornerbacks were a true freshman and a sophomore who were both starting their first collegiate game. In 2013 the Ags will feature three returning starters in their secondary.
A team weakness in 2012 could now be the strength of the defense in 2013. Deshazor Everett returns at cornerback after a very solid 2012. He has already started to receive some attention as a potential first-round draft pick.
De'Vante Harris returns for his sophomore season after starting seven games at corner as a true freshman. Harris was benched because he was not physical enough against the run.
If the spring game was any indication, Harris is a changed player. He looked noticeably bigger in the spring, and he played like a stronger player on the field.
Howard Matthews returns at strong safety after starting five games there in 2012. He will team up with Floyd Raven to give the Ags some size at safety for the first time in recent memory.
Much like on the defensive line, the Aggie secondary will physically look like an SEC unit in 2013. Both Matthews and Raven are 6'2" tall. Everett is 6'0" and Harris is the short one of the group at 5'11".
With more size and experience, the Aggie secondary will be much more effective against the run and pass in 2013.
Whenever a coaching change is made, the media always makes a big deal about how long it will take the players to adjust to a new system. If there is any truth to that theory, then it has to be a major advantage when the players gain an extra year of experience in the system.
All of the defensive players from 2012 now have a better idea of what Mark Snyder and the defensive staff expect out of them. They have a year of experience in Snyder's scheme.
This familiarity should lead to greater flexibility for Snyder in what plays he can call. He should be able to vary his schemes and play calls even more in 2013.
The players will play faster on the field because they will be able to react instead of thinking about what their responsibilities are.
A year of experience for the players should result in a faster defense. A year of experience for the coaches should result in more varied play calls and an even more confusing experience for opposing offenses.