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March 28, 2012

Stewart likely to hold down the middle

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: middle linebacker.

Losses from last year: Garrick Williams, Kyle Mangan
Players on scholarship: 4 (5 depending on where Shaun Ward plays)
Players taking part in spring practice: 3 (4 depending on Ward)
Overall talent level: Moderate
Overall experience level: Moderate
Overview: Jonathan Stewart came into his own in 2011 and will probably be looked to to start in the middle of the new 4-3 defense in 2012. Donnie Baggs, Domonique Patterson and newcomer Jordan Richmond will probably fight it out for playing time behind him.

The likely starter:

Senior Jonathan Stewart
• Team leading 98 tackles (55 solo), 5.5 tackles for loss, 3 sacks, 2 forced fumbles and 1 fumble recovery in 13 starts in 2011
• Greatest assets: Prototype middle linebacker's body at 6'4", 240; able to fight off larger players to make tackles
• The bottom line: Stewart revitalized his career in 2011, going from a fill-in at inside linebacker to a solid starter. He'll probably be looked to do the same in the middle of the 4-3 in 2012. If he can become slightly more aggressive, he will be in the upper echelon of the SEC next year.

The supporting cast:

Sophomore Donnie Baggs
• 6 tackles in 10 games in 2011
• Greatest assets: Good speed and strong tackler
• The bottom line: An outstanding outside linebacker in high school, Baggs was moved inside as soon as he arrived on campus last year. He received respectable playing time as a true freshman and could well be the first option off the bench in 2012.

Junior Domonique Patterson
• 2 tackles in 3 games in 2011
• Greatest assets: Solid in play recognition
• The bottom line: Patterson saw very little playing time last season, but a change in coaching staff and defensive scheme could help him land a bigger role this year.

True freshman Jordan Richmond
• 75 tackles, 9 TFL and 3 INT at Denton Ryan High School in 2011
• Greatest assets: Fast and extremely good tackler; makes plays at the line of scrimmage
• The bottom line: Richmond may be the best inside linebacker prospect to come to A&M in a long time. He's got the speed to beat blockers and is an assertive tackler. If he can adjust to the college game quickly, he could be taking down SEC ballcarriers this year.

The wildcard:

Sophomore Shaun Ward
• 1 tackle in 9 games in 2011
• Greatest assets: Good burst off the snap; solid tackler
• The bottom line: Ward bounced back and forth between inside and outside linebacker last season but didn't make much of an impact, showing up for training camp out of shape and subsequently outplayed by Tyrell Taylor and Alexander. He will probably move back outside this season, but will have to be in better shape to make an impact.


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