Can Texas A&M Defense Survive Dismissal of Isaiah Golden and Darian Claiborne?

Ben KerchevalCollege Football Lead WriterJune 4, 2014

ILE -  In this Sept. 21, 2013, file photo, Texas A&M freshman linebacker Darian Claiborne (48), quarterback Johnny Manziel (2) and defensive back Noel Ellis (6) sing the Aggie War Hymm during an NCAA college football game in College Station, Texas. UCLA and Texas A&M each have played 17 true freshmen this season, tied for most among the programs at the highest level of the game. An Associated Press analysis of depth charts and game reports for the 72 BCS-conference teams and Notre Dame this week showed that 359 freshmen were listed as first- or second-stringers, not including special teams. That represented almost 12 percent of the total of 3,212 players. (AP Photo/Bob Levey)
Bob Levey/Associated Press

Texas A&M's porous defense, which was at or near the bottom of the SEC in just about every major statistical category last season, just took another hit.

So to speak.

On Tuesday, Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin announced in an email statement that linebacker Darian Claiborne and defensive tackle Isaiah Golden had been dismissed from the team.

"These two individuals have failed to meet the high expectations and standards that we have for our football players and as representatives of this university," Sumlin said in a statement via The Eagle. "These two players have exhibited a pattern of behavior that we will not tolerate at Texas A&M."

Shortly after the statement was sent out, College Station police announced that Claiborne and Golden were hit with three charges of aggravated robbery each. Those charges came as a result of a drug-related incident that occurred last month.

Eric Gay/Associated Press

Details of that incident can be read on

Claiborne and Golden had a history of off-the-field problems, but the severity of the most recent allegations left Sumlin with no choice but to cut ties with the duo.

From purely a football perspective, this is tough news.

For as bad as the Aggies defense was last year, Claiborne was a rising star who finished his freshman season with 89 tackles—good for third on the team. Golden started six games as a freshman last season and finished with 32 tackles.

That production has gone out the window.

According to Brent Zwerneman of the San Antonio Express-News, Jordan Mastrogiovanni is the likeliest replacement for Claiborne. Redshirt freshman Justin Manning and/or freshman Zaycoven Henderson could fill in on a full- or part-time basis in Golden's place.

Mastrogiovanni has experience, but Manning and Henderson would be new to the game. Henderson was a touted early enrollee, but as with most freshmen, it's a guessing game in terms of how soon he'll be ready to contribute.

The off-the-field issues don't end with Claiborne and Golden, and neither do the dismissals.

The Houston Chronicle reported that redshirt freshman Kameron Miles, who was expected to compete for a starting job this year, was dismissed from the program in March for alleged theft.

Defensive lineman Gavin Stansbury was arrested earlier this spring on assault charges stemming from an alleged incident on Rice's campus, though he's fighting those charges. Safety Howard Matthews, who was in the car with Stansbury at the time of his arrest, was also arrestedreceiver Edward Pope was driving. 

However, all three players are still on the team.

Stansbury played in 10 games in 2013 while Matthews was one of the most active players for the Aggies.

There are questions at every level of the defense for A&M—that was going to be the case with or without Claiborne and Golden—but what the Aggies do have is potential. Sam Khan Jr. of identified Henderson, Mastrogiovanni, defensive back Devonta Burns and linebacker A.J. Hilliard as four players who had standout springs.

Once again, A&M will need young and/or inexperienced players to grow up quickly. If they don't, last year's liability will grow into a consistent problem.

A&M plays at South Carolina in Week 1 and will face an SEC West loaded with offensive firepower this year. That's a lot to ask of any defense. 

Plus, it remains to be seen how well the offense performs in the post-Johnny Manziel era. So, for the time being, the margin for error on defense has shrunk.


Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. All quotes obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.