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March 26, 2012

Lots of questions at DE as camp nears

Now that 2012's signing day has come and gone, Texas A&M knows for sure who it will be going into SEC play with. Aggieyell.com will look at the 2012 team, position by position, as spring practice approaches. The latest in the series: defensive end.

Losses from last year: Tony Jerod-Eddie, Ben Bass
Players on scholarship: 7
Players taking part in spring practice: 5
Talent level: TBD
Experience level: low
Overview: The Aggies' defensive will undergo major changes this year, and that couldn't be more true anywhere than defensive end. With the change to a 4-3 scheme likely bringing the former Jokers to the line of scrimmage and Tony Jerod-Eddie gone after four years, things are going to look at lot different. Here's a glimpse at how things could look as defensive coordinator Mark Snyder and line coach Terry Price take on this overhaul.

The possible starters:

Senior Spencer Nealy
• 45 tackles (19 solo), 8 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks and 1 forced fumble in 13 games (9 starts) in 2011
• Greatest assets: Ferocious competitor with a great motor; quick feet for his size
• The bottom line: Nealy worked his way back from a spring practice tight end to starting defensive end by mid-season and put in a solid performance in the place of Jonathan Mathis. A little smaller than the optimally-sized 3-4 DE at 6'5", 277 lbs., Nealy could well be the perfect fit as a 4-3 end. He will be by far the most experienced player on the defensive front next season, so the Aggies will expect (and need) a lot from him.

Junior Damontre Moore
• 72 tackles (31 solo), 17.5 TFL, 8.5 sacks, 4 forced fumbles and 1 fumble recovery in 12 games (10 starts) at Joker in 2011
• Greatest assets: Lightning fast for a guy 6'4" who likely plays at 260 lbs; remarkable athletic ability
• The bottom line: Moore lost his job to Caleb Russell to start the 2011 season and ended it as nearly an unstoppable force, terrorizing A&M's last four opponents. A defensive end in high school, he'll likely move back there this season in the 4-3. In some situations, expect him to have his hand on the ground and in others to rush standing up like Von Miller once did; in any case, the new coaching staff is hoping he'll pick up where he left off last season on the field and off it, as he underwent a rapid maturation during the year. It's a lot of if's, but if he picks up where he left off in 2011 and adapts to the new position well, he could shock opposing SEC offenses with his speed and ferocity.

The supporting cast:

Sophomore Brandon Alexander:
• 12 tackles (4 solo), 1.5 TFL in 4 games in 2011
• Greatest assets: Another tall, fast former Joker with great athletic ability
• The bottom line: Alexander was a late arrival to campus due to NCAA Clearinghouse issues and took a while to catch up, but quickly cracked the rotation once he learned his role. A former defensive end at Brenham, Alexander played last season a 6'6", 240 lbs. and should be a good bit bigger and stronger this season. Teamed with Moore, he could provide problems for opposing offenses with his speed off the line of scrimmage. Raw but incredibly talented, Alexander could provide much needed depth and pass rushing skills this year.

Redshirt freshman Ivan Robinson:
• Redshirted in 2011; made 2 tackles in 4 games in 2010
• Greatest assets: Good upper body strength; can rip free of linemen to make plays at the line of scrimmage
• The bottom line: Robinson essentially had his freshman year wasted at was redshirted last year, but with the thin roster the Aggies have on the line in 2012, a lot will be expected of him. Hopefully a year stronger and quicker, the A&M coaches have to be hoping that the former four-star recruit is ready to help Nealy in the rotation.

Senior Caleb Russell:
• 27 tackles (17 solo), 4 TFL and 3 sacks in 13 games (2 starts) in 2011 at Joker
• Greatest assets: Intelligent player who never quits on a play
• The bottom line: Russell outworked Damontre Moore to earn the starting Joker spot at the beginning of last year but struggled mightily once the lights came on. Russell was used as a spot weakside linebacker in 2010 and could return to that role this season. At 6'2", 240, he's not far away from fitting the bill sizewise. His experience would be a boost on a young line.

True freshman Alonzo Williams:
• 100 tackles, 12 sacks and 1 fumble recovery as a senior at Long Beach (Ca.) Poly High
• Greatest assets: Near college-ready size at 6'4", 248; good first step allows him to penetrate to the inside
• The bottom line: Williams is physically well-developed for a high school student and will get a heavy dose of A&M's strength and conditioning program once he gets on campus. If he shows he's up to the challenge this fall, he could see playing time as a true freshman at a need position.

True freshman Julien Obioha:
• 59 tackles and 6 sacks as a defensive tackle in 2011 at Brother Martin High School in New Oleans
• Greatest Assets: Extremely intelligent, really quick off the line and possesses great play recognition
• The bottom line: Obioha's got plenty of room on his frame (6'4", 255 lbs.) to eventually become an interior lineman, but A&M will need him as an end this season. If he becomes a little stronger and maintains his quickness, Obioha could be one of the steals of 2012 recruiting.

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