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September 18, 2013

A&M coaches hopeful defense can be fixed

Through the first three weeks of the 2013 season, Texas A&M's defense has three sacks, forced five turnovers and has given up a total of 1,467 yards -- an average of 489 yards per game. Opponents are averaging 6 yards a carry, and the defense has already given up 11 scoring drives of 75 yards or more.

In layman's terms, Rice, Sam Houston State and Alabama have all embarrassed the Aggie defense, and the A&M coaching staff is looking for answers to a surprisingly big problem.

Judging from their comments at Tuesday's press conference, they believe they may have them.

Three days after giving up 568 yards to the Crimson Tide, head coach Kevin Sumlin said he believed the opportunity is there for the defense to improve.

"The things that we saw are correctable," he said. "Our players understand that."

Sumlin said that some of the problems the defense endured against Alabama had to do with missing three starters for the first two games of the season and the resulting lack of cohesiveness among the first-line unit.

"We had to replace four of the front seven coming into the year. Then, three of the other seven missed at least one game," he said. "What you miss is the communication, the ability to line up and make adjustments. It's one thing for coaches to make adjustments; it takes experience and wherewithal to use those adjustments during a game."

The Aggies have played at least 27 different players on defense during the first three games of the season, a number Sumlin indicated will drop now that Steven Jenkins, Devante Harris and Gavin Stansbury have returned from their suspensions.

"Now that we know what the rotation is going to be, the continuity, particularly with those young guys to learn a couple different positions is going to help us," he said.

A plainly frustrated defensive coordinator Mark Snyder said he saw a number of issues stand out when reviewing the game tape.

"There were some mental mistakes and some physical mistakes. We were going up against a really good offense. The things that we need to get fixed need to get fixed. We addressed that (Monday)," he said. "What we saw was correctable."

The Aggies were able to knock Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron to the turf once Saturday, and the lack of a pass rush has been a concern since the season began. With A&M relying on the blitz and situational pass rushers like Daeshon Hall, Tyrone Taylor and Tyrell Taylor to apply pressure, getting opponents into 2nd and 3rd and long situations is critical -- and the Aggies have been able to do it enough.

"We've played a veteran team in Rice, an option-oriented team in Sam Houston State and the number one team in the country. It's a little bit of how the schedule's laid out, but that's the way it is. We need to see that improve moving forward," Snyder said of his pass rush. "That was our problem (against Alabama) -- we couldn't get them to 3rd and long."

Snyder indicated at least a couple of changes would be made for this week's matchup against SMU, including increased playing time for true freshman linebacker Darian Claiborne and a three-man rotation at safety.

"We've got to keep dual-repping Deshazor (Everett) a little bit (at safety)," he said. "We're going to play (Otis Jacobs) at corner and play Deshazor some (safety)."

In spite of the rough results of the first three weeks, Snyder remained optimistic that the defense has better days ahead this season.
The thing is, our kids care. There's a lot of hurt kids in that locker room. I thought they played their tails off. There were some bright spots," he said. "We started fast, which is exactly what we wanted to do to get the crowd into it. We had a goal-line stand and in my career, having one of those early in the season is huge. There's going to be another game where we'll be backed up into the red zone and have to make a stand. Having one of those was a positive.

They played extremely hard -- it just wasn't always smart."

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