Texas A&M Football: Will Spring Issues Limit Defensive Improvements in 2014 ?
The Texas A&M football team had one of the worst defenses in the country in 2013 but should be improved with more experience and depth in 2014. The injuries, suspensions and player dismissals on defense this spring will hamper the units' progress heading into the fall.
In 2013, the Aggies defense ranked among the worst in the country. They started true freshmen at nose tackle, linebacker and in the secondary.
In 2014, the Aggies were supposed to reap the rewards of suffering through the youthful mistakes on defense in 2013. Football players tend to make quantum leaps between their first and second year in a program as their gains in experience and strength make them a more viable collegiate athlete.
That natural progression has been interrupted for many on the Aggies defense. With the departure of quarterback Johnny Manziel to the NFL draft, the Aggies are not going to be able to lean on the offense as much in 2014 as they did in 2013.
The defense has to step up and make more timely stops if they are going to win more football games. This is a look at some of the issues that will hinder the Aggies' progress on defense this spring.
Injuries on Defensive Line
The Aggies had multiple true freshmen receive significant playing time on the defensive line in 2013. Hardreck Walker was a second-team defensive tackle. Jay Arnold split his time between defensive end and defensive tackle. Daeshon Hall was the Aggies' best pure pass-rusher and flipped back and forth between weak-side and strong-side defensive end.
All three would have benefited from a redshirt year to get bigger and stronger, but all three were forced into action by the Aggies' lack of depth on the defensive line. As a result, the Aggies defense against the run was a sieve against the majority of the teams they faced.
Walker is participating in spring practice, but both Arnold and Hall have been sidelined with shoulder surgeries. The loss of Hall is particularly frustrating. He is a 6'6", 243-pound athlete who has tremendous potential as a pass-rushing defensive end.
Hall needed to spend this offseason in the weight room getting stronger and adding some good weight. Instead, he is spending it rehabbing his shoulder. The Aggies need Hall to be close to 260 pounds by the start of the 2014 season. Missing the 15 practices in the spring and the time spent in the weight room adding mass are a tremendous blow to his progress as a player.
Arnold could have used the extra 15 practices to help the coaches decide whether he better fits their scheme as a weak-side defensive tackle or a strong-side defensive end.
The Aggies have two players who are integral parts of their defensive plans in 2014 who are currently suspended. They were both arrested by the Bryan police before spring practice began.
Golden started multiple games as nose tackle in 2013. He has tremendous strength and showed a lot of promise as a freshman when he made 32 tackles and three tackles for loss. Golden simply needed to improve his technique and learn how to split double-teams in order to become an impact player on the defensive line.
Claiborne started at middle linebacker for the Aggies in 2013. He led the Aggies in tackles during the regular season with 89 and added seven tackles for loss. The Aggies coaches were going to move Claiborne to weak-side linebacker in 2014 where his lack of ideal size would not be as big of an issue.
Claiborne is the best linebacker on the Aggies' roster at the current time. His absence during the spring is a huge blow to an Aggies linebacking corps that struggled with consistency in 2013.
It is not yet known when or if Golden and Claiborne will be allowed back on the team.
Redshirt freshman safety Kam Miles was dismissed from the Aggies football program on March 5. He allegedly committed some kind of theft which was a violation of team rules and the cause for his separation from the program.
The dismissal of Miles was a huge blow to the Aggies defense. The safety play for the Aggies defense in 2013 was absolutely abysmal. Miles was expected to step in and take over one of the starting spots.
The Aggies safeties specialized in blown coverages and missed tackles in 2013. The coaches had no depth at the position so they were forced to start players who they knew were not adequate.
The loss of Miles means that the Aggies will have to depend on incoming freshmen Armani Watts and Donovan Wilson to provide depth at the safety position in 2014. Aggies fans are going to have to hope that new secondary coach Terry Joseph will have a positive impact on the defenses back end.
Is There Help on the Way?
One of the truisms of football is that a good pass rush leads to interceptions and a good secondary leads to sacks. The Aggies' primary issue on defense in 2013 was their inability to generate a consistent pass rush.
With Daeshon Hall rehabbing his shoulder during the spring, that will still be a question mark headed into practices in August. Fortunately for the Aggies, they were able to sign the No. 1 ranked defensive end in the country in their 2014 signing class in Myles Garrett.
He should have an immediate impact at the defensive end position and may end up as the starter on the weak-side by the end of the 2014 season. Garrett and Hall will provide the Aggies with the pass rush that was missing in 2013 and cure a lot of their defensive ills.
The Aggies signed defensive tackle Zaycoven Henderson late in the recruiting process and he is currently enrolled in school and participating in spring practice. He already looks the part of an SEC defensive tackle and has stood out during the Aggies' practices and scrimmages.
If Golden cannot find his way back into the coaches good graces, then the Aggies landing Henderson is even more important than originally thought. If the Aggies can get improved play from their defensive line in 2014, then that will alleviate a lot of other issues that plagued the defense in 2013.