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: outside linebacker.
Losses from last year: Damontre Moore, Caleb Russell, Brandon Alexander (likely to the defensive line)
Players on scholarship: 6 (7 if Shaun Ward goes back to the outside)
Players taking part in spring practice: 4 (5 depending on Ward)
Overall talent level: Above average; high among the likely starters.
Overall experience level: Moderate; pretty high among the likely starters.
Overview: With four-year starter Sean Porter and (probably) senior Steven Jenkins, the Aggies should have quality starters on the outside. From there, things get interesting: coach Matt Wallerstedt will have to find solid reserves from a list including Charlie Thomas, brothers Tyrone Taylor and Tyrell Taylor, Michael Richardson and possibly Ward. There's potential, but not much experience in that group.
The unquestioned starter:
Senior Sean Porter
• 79 tackles (50 solo), 17 tackles for loss, 9.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery in 13 starts in 2011
• Greatest assets: Does virtually everything well. Has good speed to rush the pass, outstanding in coverage and excellent in play recognition.
• The bottom line: Already a solid defender against the run and the pass, Porter became the A&M's best pass rusher in 2011, leading the team and the Big 12 in sacks. One of the most underrated players in the nation, Porter's Honorable Mention selection for the All-Big 12 team was a farce, as he deserved far better. Another year like last year (or better) and he should receive All-SEC consideration in 2012.
The other likely starter:
Senior Steven Jenkins
• 61 tackles (30 solo), 3.5 TFL, 1 sack and 3 passes defensed in 13 games (6 starts) in 2011
• Greatest assets: Fast, aggressive; powerful tackler
• The bottom line: Jenkins took a while to adapt to A&M's defense last year, but when he did, he became a tackling machine. Jenkins' size (6'2", 220 lbs.) and attacking style of play make him a good fit on the outside in the 4-3.
The supporting cast:
Sophomore Tyrell Taylor
• 4 tackles in 10 games in 2011
• Greatest assets: Fast and extremely athletic
• The bottom line: Last season, Taylor looked more like a safety than a linebacker when he arrived on campus, but his speed helped him stand out initially compared to fellow freshmen Brandon Alexander and Ward. As it turned out, he probably needed could have used another year to get bigger and adjust to the college game. This year, however, he's going to be needed and the limited experience from 2011 could come in handy.
Junior Charlie Thomas
• 30 tackles (15 solo), 1 TFL in 12 games (2 starts) in 2011
• Greatest assets: Speed and ability to rapidly adjust to different defenses. Above average in pass defense.
• The bottom line: A little light for an inside linebacker at 6'1", 220 lbs., Thomas was moved inside late last summer when the Aggies were desperate for answers and worked his way into the rotation. With the Aggies thin outside as they switch to the 4-3, he'll probably be moved back outside where his talents could be better suited.
True freshman Michael Richardson
• 60 tackles, 10 TFL, 13 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, 4 fumble recoveries, and 3 interceptions at DeSoto High School in 2011.
• Greatest assets: Good size for an incoming freshman (6'2", 228 lbs.), very good play recognition skills.
• The bottom line: Richardson had an outstanding 2011, but he did it as a defensive end. Originally recruited to be a Joker, Richardson will likely stay at linebacker this season. If he can pick up the defense quickly, he could be an immediate asset to the defense.
True freshman Tyrone Taylor
• District 19-4A defensive MVP in 2011
• Greatest assets: Great speed and athleticism, like his brother; ferocious hitter
• The bottom line: Tyrone is the twin brother of Tyrell and the slightly taller (6'3") of the two. But he's just as slim (205 lbs.) as his brother. A dominant defensive end at Galena Park, Taylor has the potential to become a very good outside linebacker, but he may need a year of strength training and adjustment to reach that potential.
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.