Texas A&M has the building blocks for a competitive defense
Texas A&M was a train wreck defensively in 2014. They finished last in the SEC in total defense for a second consecutive year, leading to defensive coordinator Mark Snyder losing his job. There’s good news for whoever takes the job next, though: the pieces are already on hand to build a strong defense.
The Aggies have recruited well since Kevin Sumlin came to College Station. While a lot of that talent hasn’t found a steady role on the field yet, several freshman showed immense potential in 2014.
First and foremost is Myles Garrett, who broke the SEC’s freshman record this season. As we saw with South Carolina during the Jadeveon Clowney years, it can be pretty simple to build a defense around one dominant pass rusher.
Garrett isn’t there yet, but the potential is clear. He dominated lesser competition early in the season before wearing down against SEC competition. While he only had three sacks in conference play, several opponents were reduced to holding Garrett incessantly to keep him out of the backfield.
There’s a lot of growth left for the defensive end, something a potential defensive coordinator should be thrilled to get the chance to mold. Garrett will get bigger and stronger after being listed at a generous 250 lbs. He struggled against the run as well, something that should improve with strength and experience.
The pieces are there to build around Garrett. Two sophomores, Daeshon Hall and Shaan Washington, were third and fourth on the team in sacks. Qualen Cunningham, a four-star recruit a year ago, picked up 1.5 sacks this season in inconsistent playing time, while several other highly regarded recruits didn’t get quite as much action as you’d anticipate on a struggling defense.
Two players that did see action were linebacker Otaro Alaka and defensive back Armani Watts, both four-star recruits a year ago. Alaka missed some time with injury late in the season, but showed some of his ability when he was on the field. Watts struggled a little more early in the season, getting himself benched midway through the year. The safety had issues wrapping up, but seemed more comfortable when he was moved to more of a centerfield role late in the season.
Both showed enough potential to play significant snaps as freshmen, so the next defensive coordinator will come in with young, talented and, perhaps most importantly, experienced players at all levels.
Help is on its way, too. Four of Texas A&M’s five highest-rated commits for this recruiting class are on the defensive side of the ball, as are nearly half the commitments in the class. The Aggies knew going into 2014 that the 2015 team would be more prepared to contend, and even more so in 2016.
Things have been ugly on defense the last two seasons, but the makings of a competitive unit are there. Once Texas A&M brings in a new full-time defensive coordinator, he can start piecing those talented components together.