Who’s gone: Tyrell Taylor (eligibility expired), Tyrone Taylor (retired)
Who’s back: #10 Daeshon Hall (6-6, 260, JR), #15 Myles Garrett (6-5, 260, SO), #9 Qualen Cunningham (6-3, 240, SO), #40 Jarrett Johnson (6-3, 255, SO), #97 Darrell Jackson (6-5, 235, SO)
Who’s new: #99 James Lockhart 92 (6-3, 250, FR)
There is an awful lot of excitement around the A&M DE situation. Everyone is talking about Myles Garrett but Daeshon Hall had a monster close to 2014 including being the best DE on the field in the bowl game. And both Qualen Cunningham and Jarrett Johnson showed elite flashes as freshmen. Word around the campfire is Hall carried over his late season play into spring ball and the DE spot was the most impressive defensive unit despite Garrett sitting out stretches. The unit was so good in fact that Julien Obioha, a 3-year returning starter, was asked to gain weight and make the transition to DT. Obioha will likely still see some DE looks in short yardage sets. But with the 2-deep all looking like future stars, he’s just much more needed at DT. Incoming freshman James Lockhart is a bit in the Obioha mold in that he lacks ideal DE length but makes up for it with pure effort. While there is certainly a ton of talent that could enable Lockhart to redshirt, with only 5 other DEs officially, it wouldn’t be surprising if he plays this year.
Who’s gone: Ivan Robinson (eligibility expired), Jay Arnold (retired)
Who’s back: #95 Julien Obioha (6-4, 270, SR), #83 Alonzo Williams (6-4, 305, SR), #98 Hardreck Walker (6-2, 300, JR), #55 Justin Manning (6-1, 300, SO), #92 Zaycoven Henderson (6-1, 290, SO), #13 Reggie Chevis (6-1, 280, SO), #90 DeShawn Washington (6-3, 285, RS-FR)
Who’s new: #5 Daylon Mack (6-1, 340, FR), Kingsley Keke (6-3, 319, FR)
While the DE spot has been praised, the DTs have been beaten up by many who feel they haven’t lived up to their billing. It may not be a terribly fair assessment as DT is usually the slowest on the development curve and younger players are often eaten up. Most arrive from HS without proper technique or developed bodies because they have gotten by on pure size and athleticism to that point. So it’s fairly routine that DTs emerge late in their college careers. But for the first time since the 2012 season, A&M will be starting 2 DTs that have been in the program more than 2 years. Few would consider Zo Williams or Hardreck Walker elite, but they have developed into steady players that some of the more talented guys behind them are going to have to pass. Whereas in years past, guys were simply thrust into the roles. Obioha and Henderson provided adequate experienced depth while the sometimes forgotten about DeShawn Washington claimed a 2nd team spot in the spring coming off a redshirt year. Justin Manning missed spring practice, but provided his issues are behind him, could be a dark horse here. As far as incoming freshman, after Kyler Murray no one gets talked about more than Mack. Mack has the talent to force his way into the rotation almost immediately but with some steady bodies ahead of him, he’s going to have to earn it. Keke has elite potential but he’s probably looking at a redshirt as he played mostly 3-4 DE in HS and his body needs some time with Black Death.
Who’s gone: Jordan Mastrogiovanni (retired), Donnie Baggs (eligibility expired), Tommy Sanders (eligibility expired), Brett Wade (retired), Justin Bass (eligibility expired)
Who’s back: #46 A.J. Hilliard (6-2, 245, JR), #33 Shaan Washington (6-3, 235, JR), #42 Otaro Alaka (6-3, 231, SO), #14 Josh Walker (6-1, 235, SO)
Who’s new: #43 Claude George (6-2, 236, JR), #7 Richard Moore (6-0, 215, FR), #48 Landis Durham (6-3, 232, FR), #35 Riley Garner (6-3, 225, FR), #16 Dwaine Thomas (6-2, 215, FR)
Another year, another year of transition for the LB corps. With only 4 returning, questions abound as to where this unit stands both in terms of talent and depth. JUCO George and fish Moore both enrolled early, got to take part in spring ball and got plenty of reps. However, neither looks a threat to start this year which is concerning given all 4 returnees sat out spring ball due to various injuries. Everyone has had a chance to sit in the film room with their new position coach Chavis, so there is a pecking order. But until they all get a chance to get on the field, it’s pretty soft. Alaka seems the most likely to emerge as a star from this group given his play late in 2014. But there is also a lot of hope for AJ Hilliard who flashed brilliance in fall camp last year and in his one and only game. If those two are ready to go and shake off the rust before Sept 7th, this could be a very good unit. If they are slow to round into form, or there are injuries of any sort, this unit could again be catastrophic. The big worry is that while all the incoming freshmen are interesting projects, they could probably all use a redshirt for one reason or another. Clearly some are going to be forced to play and it’s a concern. Even a player like Alaka who is extremely smart (on and off the field) took half a season to get up to speed.