Wheel route! Cover the dang wheel route! A&M’s secondary got burned time and time again last season. The unit was gashed to the tune 253 yards per game and 13.18 yards per completion. Out of 123 teams, A&M ranked 95 in passing defense. The inefficiencies were not due to lack of experience. There were 3 juniors and a senior in the starting lineup. The talent was there. Toney Hurd Jr., Howard Matthews, and Deshazor Everett should all land with NFL teams this draft and next. Rather, they simply lacked execution. Cornerbacks and safeties were so focused on the run since the front seven could never make a stop. All it took was a simple play action fake or that dang wheel route and the A&M secondary would find themselves completely out of position to make a play.
Despite the frustration, there is reason for optimism. A&M returns the majority of its secondary unit from 2013. The only starter that needs to be replaced is graduating Senior Toney Hurd Jr. who played Nickel in situational packages. New secondary coach, Terry Joseph, brings with him a fresh and up-tempo coaching style. He demands that the players do things his way. He expects nothing less than 100% effort. And he encourages mistakes….at least in practice. Those mistakes are teachable moments and the players have absolutely loved his style. When the secondary makes a big play or forces an interception, Terry is the first guy jumping around celebrating with them. This energy and his new mechanics should translate into a much improved passing defense in 2014.
At strong safety, it all starts and ends with senior Howard Matthews. He is most remembered by the bone crushing hit he laid on an Alabama receiver in 2012 that led to McCarron’s first interception in the 1st quarter. He logged 2 starts, 13 games played, 28 tackles, and two sacks his freshman season. As a sophomore he played in 12 of 13 games and started 5 of them notching 58 tackles along the way. Finally, last season as the sole starter, he notched 90 tackles, broke up 6 passes, forced 1 fumble, and returned 1 interception for a touchdown. He has completely locked down the starting spot and is being backed up by Jonathan Wiggins.
Floyd Raven returns for his senior season and is poised for a breakout year. He saw action as a true freshman and sophomore and was expected to start all
year last season. However, a suspension sidelined him for the season opener against Rice. The following game he injured his collarbone and had to miss 3 consecutive conference matches including the Alabama game. He gained more and more playing time as the year wore on and eventually replaced Clay Honeycutt as starter. In spring practice, he reportedly made a monster hit on TE Cameron Clear. The massive tight end had to sit out the rest of practice because of it. Before the dismissal of RS Freshman Kameron Miles, this position was a heated competition. But with Miles gone, look for Raven to lock down the free safety starting position.
Devonta Burns is a new name that Aggies could be hearing more of next fall. He is a redshirt junior and will factor into the mix at free safety or strong safety. Regarding depth, he could be the first substitute in for Raven or Matthews. Sumlin praised Burns after the first week of practice saying that he had an impressive week. However, last week Sumlin spoke to the lack of depth the Aggies have at safety. After the starters, Devonta Burns and Clay Honeycutt are the only safeties that the coaches can count on. Sophomore Jonathan Wiggins, RS Freshman Victor Davis, and incoming freshman Donovan Wilson all need to work hard to increase the depth at both safety positions.
DeShazor Everett is an elite playmaker that excels at his natural position cornerback. Lack of depth forced the coaching staff to switch him to safety for much of last season. However, this season they are determined to keep him where he plays best. Following the news of Miles’ departure Sumlin was asked if he would move the “Louisianimal” from corner to safety. His answer was ‘no’ and much of that had to do with how well Everett performed in spring camp at his more natural position. While constantly getting moved around, Everett still managed 73 tackles and 2 interceptions last season. He was a major contributor in 2012 as well. As he enters his senior year, the coaches will look to him for leadership and locking down each team’s best receiver.
De’Vante Harris enters his junior season and has also received all the first team snaps in spring camp. He started in 10 games last season notching 53 tackles and 1 interception. Even as a true freshman, he started 7 games. With so many starts between Everett and Harris, there should be little question on the starting lineup. The questions once again remain on the depth chart.
Look for Sophomore Noel Ellis and RS Freshman Tavares Garner to work their way into the rotation. Ellis logged playing time in 7 games last season and contributed 8 tackles on the year. Also, Aggie fans need to keep an eye out for incoming true freshman Nick Harvey. Rated by Rivals as the 58th best player nationally and the #1 CB in Texas, A&M could absolutely benefit from his arrival this summer.
Sumlin has plenty of talent in the secondary and he just went out and hired one of the best position coaches in the nation. Joseph Terry knows exactly what he wants from his players and they are responding to his methods. As a result, look for A&M to be vastly improved in 2014. Furthermore, look for Sumlin to give as much playing time as possible to some of the younger players. Howard Matthews, Floyd Raven, Clay Honeycutt and DeShazor Everett are all seniors and will graduate following this season. So when Sumlin says that he is nervous about the depth of the safety position, he is not just referencing this year. Every single safety with any playing time at all will be gone after next season. Players like Devonta Burns, Jonathan Wiggins, and Victor Davis really need to step up and prove themselves to Coach Sumlin and Terry Joseph.
Cornerback: DeShazor Everett
Strong Safety: Howard Matthews
Free Safety: Floyd Raven
Cornerback: De’Vante Harris
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