Texas A&M Football: Are Aggies' Defensive Problems Scheme or Talent Based?
The Texas A&M football team had an extremely porous defense in 2013 because the Aggies did not have the requisite size and talent to compete with the top teams in the SEC.
The easiest thing to do as a college football fan is to blame the coach when your team fails. There are Aggie fans out there who think that Texas A&M defensive coordinator Mark Snyder should be replaced after the poor showing from the defense in 2013.
This is not an issue with coaching or with scheme. It is simply a case of not having the right players in place to successfully hold up against an SEC schedule.
This is a look at why the Aggies' defensive issues in 2013 were related to a lack of proven talent on defense, and how those issues can be resolved.
Texas A&M defensive coordinator Mark Snyder runs a 4-3 "under" scheme as his base defense. Snyder is multiple by nature. Depending on the opponent and down and distance, the Aggie defense can line up in the 4-3, 3-4, 4-2-5 or 33-stack scheme.
Any one of those schemes can be effective with the right personnel. In 2012, with the Aggies running the same schemes, the defense allowed 21.8 points and 390.2 yards per game.
In 2013, the defense has allowed 30.9 points and 460.3 yards per game. That is a significant difference when considering that the 2012 defense allowed a lot of meaningless yardage and points at the end of blowout wins.
The losses of fourth-round NFL draft pick Sean Porter and Jonathan Stewart at linebacker had a deleterious effect on the Aggies' run defense. Snyder is a good defensive coordinator, and his schemes are effective when he has adequate personnel in place.
A Question of Talent
Webster's defines talent as "the special ability to do something well." The Aggies were lacking in talent at certain areas on the defense in 2013.
The area that stands out the most is at defensive end. Julien Obioha made the switch from strong-side defensive end in 2012 to weak-side defensive end in 2013. The weak-side position is meant to be more of a pass-rushing position in the defense.
Gavin Stansbury started at the weak side. Neither player showed a particular talent for setting the edge on the defense through the first half of the season. Although Stansbury picked it up in the last six games, neither showed much ability to pressure a passer either.
Obioha had one total sack on the season. Stansbury tied for the team lead with three total sacks. Damontre Moore played the weak-side defensive end position in 2012 and registered 12.5 sacks on the season.
In 2013, Stansbury and Obioha combined to make 85 tackles with eight tackles for loss and four sacks. In 2012, Moore by himself registered 85 tackles with 21 tackles for loss and the aforementioned 12.5 sacks.
Obviously, the Aggies had a large drop-off in talent at the defensive end position. Obioha missed the Cotton Bowl and all of spring practice with a back injury.
How much that injury affected his play in 2013 is unknown. What is known is that getting one sack from a weak-side defensive end in 12 games is completely unacceptable.
You need to be able to pressure opposing quarterbacks and create negative plays in this league. The Aggies are bringing in three talented defensive end recruits in 2014 to help in this area, but in 2013 the talent was simply not there.
Size Does Matter
When it comes to playing defense in the Southeastern Conference, size definitely matters. If you are not big in the front seven of your defense, you are going to get run over.
The Aggies relied on some undersized linebackers in 2013. Starting outside linebacker Steven Jenkins weighed in at 209 pounds. Outside linebacker Tommy Sanders was even smaller than Jenkins.
Donnie Baggs started at middle linebacker before his poor play forced a position change back to outside linebacker. Baggs is right around 220 pounds.
The Aggies' linebackers in 2013 were the size of a lot of safeties in the SEC. They were simply too small to hold up against the bigger running backs in the league.
When the Aggies played Mississippi State, there were multiple occasions when starting middle linebacker Darian Claiborne and Jenkins were waiting for Bulldogs quarterback Dak Prescott in the hole. Prescott used his 230-pound frame to run right over them.
Daeshon Hall is currently the only natural pass-rusher on the Aggies' roster. At 6'6" and 243 pounds, he is too lean to hold up against the bigger offensive tackles in the SEC.
Another year in the weight room should have Hall at 260 pounds and more physically prepared to hold up against the pounding of SEC offenses.
Youth Will Be Served
In 2010 and 2011, the Aggies signed junior college defensive tackles in order to help shore up the interior of their defense. In 2012, Aggie head coach Kevin Sumlin flipped defensive tackle Edmund Ray at the last minute and convinced him to sign with the Aggies.
None of the aforementioned defensive tackles qualified to be admitted to A&M. This created a lack of depth on the Aggie defensive line.
In 2013, three true freshmen were forced to play defensive tackle for the Aggies. Isaiah Golden, Hardreck Walker and Jay Arnold all gained valuable experience playing significant minutes in 2013.
Ideally, all three of them would have been redshirted so they could add strength in order to be better prepared to compete in the trenches in the SEC.
Defensive end Daeshon Hall, middle linebacker Darian Claiborne, linebacker Jordan Mastrogiovanni, outside linebacker Shaan Washington and cornerback Noel Ellis all saw extensive playing time as freshmen.
The Aggies had to deal with blown assignments and youthful mistakes from all of these freshmen. Dealing with those growing pains will pay off in 2014 when the defense will return so much experience.
A perfect storm of injuries and recruiting misses combined to limit the talent available on the field for the Aggie defense in 2013. From this point forward, Sumlin's strong recruiting and the Aggies' youth movement will result in a much-improved defense on the field.