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March 6, 2014

Loss of Miles leaves A&M scrambling at safety

In recent writeups on A&M's recruiting in the 2013 and 2014 classes, the one thing that stood out to me (as well anyone else reading the article) is that the program really needed to add numbers at the safety position in the 2015 class. The Aggies signed just three safeties combined in the two classes although there were perhaps other candidates that could be moved from cornerback. In addition, in terms of quality, A&M signed just one four star at the position in West Mesquite's Kameron Miles whereas they added multiple four stars at just about every position on the roster (save linebacker).

Finally, although the 2015 class was being counted on to solve A&M's long term needs at the position, A&M needed help in the short term in the worst way as well. The Aggies had rotated four different players for two starting spots last season and rarely got consistent play from any of them. Their lack of safety play was statistically confirmed by the fact that A&M ranked dead last in the SEC in gains allowed over 50 yards (safeties being the last line of defense versus both the run and pass). Tackling, communication, technique…all were issues for secondary that didn't get a lot of help from the pass rush for most of the season.

Former West Mesquite safety and four star Kameron Miles committed to Tennessee early in the process and A&M did not make a move on him until after the start of the 2012 season because thee were concerns about his speed (he ran in the 4.7 range). However, Miles was 6 foot 2 and covered lots of ground from the position. He was athletic enough to line up at corner at times and cover people down the field but physical enough to be an in the box safety.

With Tennessee's coaching situation in flux (the Vols eventually fired head coach Derek Dooley), Miles decommitted from Tennessee to A&M. He even helped recruit four star teammate Dylan Sumner Gardner to Aggieland who played opposite him in high school. Miles had surgery before the start of the 2013 season and redshirted. He was being counted on to provide competition for a group of returnees that needed it and depth at a position at which there wasn't very much.

Instead, the safety position…probably the weakest position on the defense in both numbers and play…took another hit yesterday when multiple sources told AggieYell.com that Miles was no longer on the team. It was also a stunning development given the fact that Miles had everything to play for this spring given what happened at the position last season as well as his own talent.

New secondary coach Terry Joseph is bringing new techniques and an emphasis on communication to the position that was lacking last season. Nonetheless,
A&M is now basically back to square one at the position in terms of trying to find solutions from the essentially the same people that played last season.

The starters at the end of the season were junior Clay Honeycutt at free safety and junior Howard Matthews at strong safety. In addition, junior Floyd Raven was injured for much of the year and if healthy could be anticipated to be more effective. There should be some quality among that trio as well as both Raven and Matthews were rated as a four star prospects coming out of high school. However, neither has played like it for very long stretches of time at A&M.

Starting corner and returning junior DeShazor Everett also started some at safety last season and is sufficiently big and enough of a playmaker to provide a positive impact at the position. At this point in time, he almost has to be an option unless the trio of Honeycutt, Raven, and Matthews improve immensely during the spring. Outside of those four, A&M doesn't really have any other veterans who have earned much playing time. Junior to be Devonta Burns is now over 200 pounds and has popped up in some early videos of spring practice; if there's a time for him to make any kind of a move, it should be as a redshirt upperclassman that's had three years in a college strength and nutrition program and was a solid high school player.

With three seniors in the pipeline leaving after the 2014 campaign, A&M really needs to get something out of its younger players (regardless of last year's results). Sophomore Jonathan Wiggins played special teams last season and there's a possibility that redshirt frosh corner Victor Davis could move to safety (he played both positions in high school). Incoming freshman Donovan Wilson can strike people and had 13 interceptions as a senior in high school.

Overall, Miles' loss may well be felt moreso from a competition standpoint in terms of his ability to push returnees for playing time. With essentially four seniors who could play the two positions (two of them four stars out of high school and a third who's been a two year starter in the secondary), A&M should already have sufficient quality and quantity so that Miles would be an option rather than someone that was being counted on heavily to provide immediate help.

The Aggies really need Joseph to get more out of his charges than former secondary coach Marcel Yates did last year and an improved front seven might provide more of a quick fix than anything Joseph can accomplish. If those things happen, then the position should be more of the strength that everyone believed it would be prior to last season. But even assuming the preceding, A&M REALLY needs its 2015 safety class (which includes four stars Larry Pryor and Justin Dunning) to be able to come in and contribute in the two deep as freshmen. In addition, the Aggies probably need to start scouring the junior college ranks for help so that the payoff associated with a ever improving front seven can be realized on the back end of the defense as well.

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