The Texas A&M football team had one of the worst defenses in all of college football in 2013. A combination of more experience and better talent will help the Aggies' defense take a quantum leap forward in 2014.
There were multiple factors that went into the defensive struggles at A&M in 2013. The defense started the season behind the eight-ball when multiple starters were suspended for the first two games of the season.
This meant that the first time the defense played together as a unit was against No. 1 Alabama. They have also struggled with injuries.
Kevin Sumlin says Aggies DB Floyd Raven is injured & won't play vs #bama...Raven's a VERY physical talented DB. Will be missed.— Bruce Feldman (@BFeldmanCBS) September 10, 2013
Floyd Raven missed multiple games with a collarbone injury. That resulted in Clay Hunnicutt starting at safety. Hunnicutt's poor play led to multiple long touchdowns for opposing offenses.
Starting nose guard Kirby Ennis was lost for the season with a knee injury. His injury exposed a lack of depth on the interior defensive line in 2013.
The two biggest issues that the 2013 defense faced were a lack of a pass rush and lack of overall size. The Aggies can rectify these two issues through recruiting and the simple maturation of their roster.
Upgrade In Talent
One of the biggest issues in the Aggies' 2013 defense was their lack of a pass rush. The defense only produced 20 sacks in 12 games compared to 31 sacks a year ago.
Particularly distressing was that the starting defensive ends for the Aggies had only five sacks in 12 games. The Aggies simply need to get more penetration and pressure from their defensive end spots.
Garrett is ranked by 247sports.com as the top weak-side defensive end recruit in the country. Cunningham comes in at the No. 8 spot in the rankings.
Both should be instrumental in improving the Aggies' pass rush in 2013. Johnson may need a year to redshirt to add some more weight.
The bottom line for Aggie fans, is that defensive coordinator Mark Snyder will have a lot more options to go to in 2014 when it comes to putting pressure on the opposing quarterbacks.
The interior defensive line will be bolstered by 2014 commit DeShawn Washington. He is a four-star prospect according to 247sports.com and should add some depth on the interior.
The Aggies are still in the running for five-star defensive tackle prospect Gerald Willis. The addition of Willis or a top junior college defensive tackle would put the 2014 recruiting class over the top when it comes to defense.
The 2014 defensive line should be much improved when it comes to getting pressure on the quarterback, which will lead to a lot more negative plays and forced turnovers.
A Year In The Weight Room
The Aggies were simply overpowered at the point of attack in many of their games in 2013. They did not have the size to hold up against the powerful offenses from the SEC West teams.
An offseason spend in Larry Jackson's strength and conditioning program should do wonders to resolve that problem. Some players like true freshman starting nose guard Isaiah Golden have the requisite size and strength but need to clean up their technique a little.
The Aggies played four true freshmen on the defensive line in 2013. They were overwhelmed at times, which should be expected.
Golden had the most success, starting every game after Ennis went down and registering 30 tackles with three tackles for loss. He gives the Aggies a strong anchor in the middle of the defensive line, but he needs to learn how to better split the double-team.
That is a technique issue that will be sorted out in the offseason with repetitions with defensive line coach Terry Price. Golden will be a very disruptive player as a sophomore in 2014.
Daeshon Hall is probably the Aggies' best pass-rusher off the edge, but at 6'6" and 243 pounds, he was simply too lean to compete in the SEC. He finished the regular season with 25 total tackles, three tackles for loss and an interception.
An offseason in the weight room and training table should have Hall stronger and around 260 pounds on his 6'6" frame. The added strength will help him handle SEC left tackles in 2014.
Justin Manning and Jordan Points both redshirted during the 2013 season. They will add depth on the interior defensive line during the 2014 season.
The presence of Golden, Manning, Points and Hardreck Walker will allow Alonzo Williams to move back to strong-side defensive end. Williams played the entire 2013 season at defensive tackle.
He finished the year with 25 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss. Williams was solid in 2013, but the Aggies need to be better than solid at defensive tackle if they want to be an elite team.
At strong-side defensive end, Williams will be able to use his size and strength to hold up the edge. Williams is 6'4" and 280 pounds. He can hold the edge better than 2013 starter Gavin Stansbury who weighs in at only 255 pounds.
The defensive line was not the only position where youth and a lack of size were an issue. The Aggies started three linebackers who were the size of safeties in 2013.
At 6'0" and 225 pounds, Darian Claiborne is the smallest starting middle linebacker in the SEC. He should be able to add at least 10 pounds of good weight in the offseason.
Shaan Washington and Jordan Mastrogiovanni got valuable experience playing as true freshmen in 2013. That should pay off in 2014.
With Brett Wade and Reggie Chevis coming off redshirt seasons, the Aggies should have noticeably more size at the linebacker position in 2014. That size and experience will help the Aggie linebackers hold up better against the SEC running backs and offensive linemen.
The Aggies experienced a lot of growing pains on defense in 2013 when they played a lot of freshmen. They will reap the rewards from that sacrifice in 2014.