August 5, 2009

Storylines: Youth movement on defense

With August training camp opening in less than a week at Texas A&M, the Aggies have plenty of questions with just little over a month until opening night at Kyle Field. Over the next week, we at AggieYell.com will take a peek at the top storylines in Aggieland facing the team in camp.

One of the more daunting tasks of August training camp is the Aggie defense that ranked No. 114 out of 119 FBS programs last season. In the spring, A&M implemented one major change which was the creation of the jack position - a hybrid between a linebacker and a defensive end.

The position is meant to easily switch between a 3-4 and a 4-3 defense and to increase the speed on the field with a pure pass rusher at the position that can also fall back as a linebacker. Junior Von Miller took to the position quickly and dominated spring drills. With A&M offensive linemen Lucas Patterson, Lee Grimes and Kevin Matthews healthy in August camp, expect to see Miller get a little tougher competition in camp.

But Miller will probably continue to dominate, which will make observers continue to wonder if Miller will be able to do it against the top teams in the Big 12 conference. We won't find that out until the games are actually played.

The Aggies, however, are making a ton more changes on defense and most of it has to do with a major youth movement. Four seniors figure to make an impact on defense this season with only two of them entering fall camp comfortable in a starting role - safety Jordan Pugh and defensive end Matt Moss, a second-year junior college transfer. Cornerback Jordan Peterson will have tons of competition for the starting job opposite sophomore Terrence Frederick while linebacker Anthony Lewis lost the top spot in the middle to redshirt freshman Kyle Mangan in the spring.

And if there is any one position on defense where the youth movement is more important than the others it's at linebacker. Former starting middle linebacker Matt Featherston made the move to the jack position, backing up Miller, which was supposed to leave the job to Lewis. But Mangan quickly took over the job in the spring.

Around Mangan and Lewis, who will continue to battle it out through August, is a ton of youth. Sophomore Garrick Williams is in his second season as an outside linebacker along with sophomore Ricky Cavanaugh. But the rate at which the true freshmen catch on could severely play into starting roles and playing time.

The freshman to keep an eye on at the position is Johnathan Stewart who has the speed and ability to push for a starting job right away on the outside. Stewart is just one of six linebackers signed in the recruiting class of 2009 and all six will have a chance at earning playing time. That includes Malcolm Johnson who suffered a torn ACL his senior year in high school. Originally thought to be out this season and redshirting, head coach Mike Sherman revealed at Big 12 Media Days that Johnson could play this season. A totally different storyline will follow Johnson in August and if he gets on the field during camp.

Linebacker, however, isn't the only position with a major youth movement. Sophomore Tony Jerod-Eddie and Eddie Brown figure to be the starting duo at defensive tackle in a rotations with redshirt freshmen Rod Davis and Adren Dorsey. At safety sophomore Trent Hunter is entrenched in a starting role while Frederick is out at corner.

The other cornerback spot is wide open with junior college transfer Coryell Judie the odds-on favorite to win the job, assuming he is on the practice field trying to earn that job. Judie has still yet to qualify for A&M while he finishes his last junior college class.

A host of freshman such as THSCA All-Star Defensive MVP Dustin Harris will be challenging Judie and Peterson for the opposite spot from Frederick. Like linebacker, the Aggies signed six defensive backs in their recruiting class of 2009.

Whether the Aggies will improve on their dismal defensive showing in 2008 is still a mystery, but the movement to get younger and faster is definitely in high gear. This camp could easily be classified as the most important camp for the Aggie defense in years.

Storylines entering August training camp:

Finding a WR next to Fuller
Finding the right leaders

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