SEC Country is breaking down each of Texas A&M’s position groups as the entire 2016 roster reports to College Station.
Continuing with the series, we take a look at linebacker. A unit riddled with injuries and prone to giving up big runs saw improvement in 2015 despite the loss of key contributors. Can the team stay healthy and continue the climb going forward?
Names you need to know: Richard Moore (sophomore), Dwaine Thomas (sophomore), Claude George (senior), Shaan Washington (senior), Otaro Alaka (redshirt sophomore), Landis Durham (sophomore)
Just arrived: Tyrel Dodson
Analysis: When John Chavis arrived as the new defensive coordinator for the Aggies in 2015, linebacker depth had to rank high on the list of concerns. After starting the last five games of 2014, Alaka was expected to be one of Chavis’ primary weapons on defense. Washington was a raw talent who saw eight games of action in the 2014 campaign, but it had yet to be seen what type of influence Chavis would have on the linebackers’ game.
The improvements were both swift and substantial. Washington’s tackle totals improved from 58 in 2014 to 81 last season, good for second on the team and most by a linebacker. The Aggies went from giving up 450.8 yards per game before Chavis’ arrival to 380 yards per game, improving their ranking from 104th in the country to No. 51.
However, Alaka saw action in just three games before an injury sidelined him for the remainder of the 2015 campaign. He was given a medical redshirt to regain his sophomore year of eligibility. A.J. Hilliard, a TCU transfer who fought injuries the last few years, decided to hang up the cleats in the offseason and call it a career, which lessened depth at the position further. Washington’s 81 tackles were undoubtedly impressive, but he trailed safety Armani Watts (126) for the team lead. When the secondary is making that many stops, it indicates holes in the defense that have yet to be patched up.
Helping to make strides toward the solution for that problem was Richard Moore, who enjoyed a great deal of success after debuting midway through the 2015 season. He should start behind Thomas at linebacker, but should he continue developing at his current rate, could push for the starting job.
Claude George helped to speed up the process of improvement considerably for the middle of the Aggie defense as a junior college transfer, providing instant depth as well as experience to the position.
Dodson is a member of the 2016 class and should work his way into the lineup as soon as the first game of the season. Landis Durham saw action in four games for the Aggies last year and should see a good bump in snaps for the upcoming campaign.
Key question: Can the team avoid the injury bug biting linebackers again this year? Far from stacked, the Aggies have enough depth to stay competitive and keep a respectable rotation in 2016. Lose the services of one or two players? It could be a long year in the middle of the defense for the Maroon and White.
Bottom line: The quantity of options isn’t high, but the quality of coaching is as good as anywhere in the country. In the second year under Chavis, expect the linebackers to improve along with the rest of the defense. It is critical that the unit cuts down on missed or broken tackles to limit the number of “big plays” for 2016.
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