Texas A&M Football: Biggest Issues Facing the Aggies Defense in 2014

Michael TaglientiFeatured ColumnistMay 29, 2014

Texas A&M Football: Biggest Issues Facing the Aggies Defense in 2014

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    Rogelio V. Solis/Associated Press

    The Texas A&M football team needs to improve on defense in 2014. The Aggies are facing multiple issues on defense that need to be addressed in order for them to have a successful season. 

    The Texas A&M defense was one of the worst in the country in 2013. It ranked No. 109 nationally and struggled to stop any opposing offense. 

    The team's defensive ineptitude forced the Aggies offense to score on almost every possession in order to win games. With the loss of three first-round draft picks from the offensive side of the ball, the Aggies offense may take a step back in 2014. 

    The defense is going to have to raise its level of play and pick up the slack. If the defense does not improve, then the Aggies are going to struggle to win games in 2014. 

    This is a look at the major issues facing the Aggies defense in 2014. 

Lack of Pass Rush

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    The No. 1 issue with the Aggies' 2013 defense was its inability to get a consistent pass rush from the defensive line. The Aggies defense registered 21 sacks in 2013 with 10.5 coming from the defensive line. 

    To put that number in perspective, in 2013 Aggies defensive end Damontre Moore had 12.5 sacks by himself. The Aggies' inability to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks left their secondary vulnerable. Given up to six seconds to get passes off, opposing quarterbacks were able to pass for 253.5 passing yards per game and 31 touchdowns on the season. 

    The Aggies need to get more production from their defensive end positions. Julien Obioha was the Aggies' starting weak-side defensive end in 2013 and registered one sack in 13 games. 

    The Texas A&M coaches signed three defensive ends in the 2014 recruiting class. They will need to get immediate production from Myles Garrett and Qualen Cunningham at weak-side defensive end. 

    Sophomore defensive end Daeshon Hall will be the starter on the weak side to start the 2014 season. Among Hall, Garrett and Cunningham, the Aggies should be able to get more production from their defensive ends than they did in 2013. 

    In Isaiah Golden, Hardreck Walker, Justin Manning, Alonzo Williams, Jay Arnold and Zaycoven Henderson, the Aggies should have a solid rotation at nose guard and defensive tackle. The 2014 version of the Aggies defense will have a lot more depth on its front four. Aggies fans will have to hope that depth leads to better results on the field. 

Lack of Size and Playmakers at Linebacker

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    Eric Gay/Associated Press

    The Aggies linebackers struggled to consistently make plays in 2013. Senior Donnie Baggs started at middle linebacker, but he was undersized and was easily blocked by opposing offensive linemen.

    Baggs was replaced by true freshman Darian Claiborne in the middle after the loss to Alabama. Claiborne displayed great natural instincts and led the team in tackles during the regular season with 89.

    Claiborne does not have the size required to play middle linebacker. The Aggies' defensive coaches want more size at the positions, and Claiborne's classmate Jordan Mastrogiovanni is projected as the starter in the middle for 2014.

    Mastrogiovanni is a 6'3", 235-pound linebacker who excelled in coverage in 2013. He struggled to get off blocks and did not display great instincts against the run as a freshman. If he can be solid against the run in 2014, the linebacker corps will be much improved as a group.

    Shaan Washington saw some action at strong-side linebacker in 2013 as a true freshman. He displayed a lot of promise as a pass-rusher off the edge with three sacks and four tackles for loss. The 6'3", 230-pound sophomore has the size to hold up against SEC opponents.

    The starting linebackers for A&M should be a bigger and more seasoned unit in 2014. There will be three sophomore starters at linebacker, and Aggies fans will benefit after suffering through youthful mistakes from those freshmen in 2013.  

Questions at Safety

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    Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press

    The play from the safety position on the Texas A&M defense in 2013 was nothing short of terrible. The inability of the defense's front seven to control the opposing running game resulted in the safeties crashing down on the line of scrimmage to help out.

    This led to multiple busted plays and coverages where wide-open wide receivers and running backs scored on long passing plays. Senior safety Howard Matthews in particular was susceptible to the wheel route by opposing running backs. 

    It seemed that once a game Matthews would get beaten on a wheel route. Duke went to the play with success on multiple occasions against Matthews in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. 

    Matthews apparently impressed new secondary coach Terry Joseph enough to retain a starting position in 2014. It remains to be seen if he has improved his game or if he simply had a nice series of practices.

    Jonathan Wiggins, Devonta Burns and Floyd Raven Jr. are going to fight it out for the other starting safety spot. The safety position is still a big question mark. Improved play by the front seven on the defense should help cover some of the deficiencies of this unit, but it simply needs to play better in 2014. 

     

Off-the-Field Issues

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    It could be argued that the Aggies' best overall defensive player in 2013 was true freshman linebacker Darian Claiborne. He led the Aggies in tackles during the regular season and displayed exceptional instincts at middle linebacker. 

    The Aggies' most consistent defensive lineman was true freshman nose guard Isaiah Golden. He was a rock in the center of the line who needs to simply clean up some of his technique before he can be a true difference-maker in the SEC. 

    With two sophomores returning who are the best players within their respective position groups, the future of the Aggies defense appears bright. The problem is that both Claiborne and Golden have been arrested within the past year. 

    There is no guarantee that Claiborne and Golden will be on the team in the fall, or that they can make it through a season without running into problems off the field. The fate of the Aggies defense in 2014 to a large extent relies on two players who may or may not be on the team at the end of the season. 

    That is a scary proposition, but that is the reality for the Aggies right now.