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 the defensive backs. A unit quickly reaching new heights both figuratively and literally, the A&M secondary continues to grow under the direction of defensive coordinator John Chavis and defensive backs coach Terry Joseph.
Names you need to know: Noel Ellis (junior), Donovan Wilson (junior), Nick Harvey (junior), Justin Evans (senior), Larry Pryor (redshirt freshman), DeShawn Capers-Smith (sophomore), Armani Watts (junior), Priest Willis (redshirt junior), Justin Dunning (sophomore)
Just arrived: Travon Fuller, Charles Oliver, Ikenna Okeke, Clifford Chattman
Analysis: There was a lot to be proud of for the A&M secondary in 2015. The Aggies recorded a shutout victory against Vanderbilt late in the season, while Watts led the team in tackles with 126, the fourth highest total in the nation for defensive backs. The staff took Brandon Williams from running back, to corner, to third-round NFL draft pick in just one short year. Wilson appeared at times to be the second coming of Tyrann Mathieu — the LSU defensive back who earned the nickname ‘Honey Badger’ — while leading the Aggies in interceptions (5) and forcing three fumbles.
Though Williams departs, Watts and Wilson will both be patrolling the field for the Aggies once again in 2016. Wilson will likely line up at nickel, with Evans at strong safety to assist Watts in deep coverage. The senior finished third on the team in tackles with 78 after transferring from Mississippi Gulf Coast community college prior to last season.
Harvey should have one of the corner spots locked down, while Capers-Smith and Willis battle it out during the start of the season to earn snaps in conference play. Capers-Smith saw limited action in six games for the Aggies in 2015, but saw a good amount of action in the spring game to indicate his time is coming soon. Willis sat out last season after transferring from UCLA and will bring a veteran presence to a position receiving an influx of raw talent.
Fuller and Oliver enrolled on campus earlier this week and are expected to play at corner for the Aggies. Okeke will play at safety and aims to join in a rotation that includes Pryor and Dunning. Chattman, the 6-foot-4 athlete from New Orleans, told SEC Country he’s excited to be arriving on campus and will play wherever he can fit for A&M in 2016.
Tackle totals were fairly high in the secondary last season, but that number should drop as the defensive line and linebackers improve. With less focus on correcting mistakes or plugging holes in the defense, defensive backs should see a rise in opportunities for pass breakups and interceptions.
Size continues to increase for the unit as well. As TexAgs pointed out via Twitter, the last eight defensive backs to commit to the Aggies have ranged in height from 6-foot-1 to 6-foot-4. Nine defensive backs on the active roster are 6-foot or taller.
Key questions: What can be expected from A&M corners this season? Will Watts cross the 100-tackle mark once again this season? How fast will the class of 2016 members see the field?
Bottom line: The Aggies saw defensive improvement across the board in 2015, but the secondary was responsible for making a large amount of the stops. If the defensive line and linebackers can improve on their run defense, the secondary could shift focus and see a huge improvement in the passing game.
Other positions in series: