Texas A&M football had a terrific turnaround on defense in 2018, but they are losing a ton of upperclassmen, especially at linebacker.
One of the bigger splash hires of last offseason was Texas A&M football luring defensive coordinator Mike Elko away from Notre Dame to take the same job with Jimbo Fisher’s first staff. Although Elko was the second choice behind LSU’s Dave Arranda — who ended up as the highest paid coordinator in the country — he was expected to turn around the Aggie defense.
He did exactly that.
Texas A&M drastically improved in almost every area from 2017 to 2018. Part of that was Fisher’s offense holding the ball longer and keeping the defense fresh, but most of it was Elko implementing a scheme to take advantage of the Aggie strength, which was its front seven.
The Ags were led by seniors Otaro Alaka, Kingsley Keke, Daylon Mack and Landis Durham, all of whom have a shot at the NFL, plus Tyrel Dodson who declared for the 2019 NFL Draft after his junior season. Safety Donovan Wilson is also graduating and presumably heading to the NFL.
This is five of the top six tacklers from the 2018 squad, plus Mack who was a dominant force up front as the nose tackle. Only Wilson was not in the front seven.
While the Aggies should have limited concerns of replacing the production lost on the defensive line with Justin Madubuike, Tyree Johnson, and Jayden Peevy still available, plus potential all-world tackle DeMarvin Leal from the 2019 class already on campus (not to mention other 4-star recruits from this and earlier classes), the concern for replacing Alaka and Dodson is real.
Buddy Johnson played linebacker all season and got a chance to start for Alaka in the Gator Bowl. He played well and should be able to man the inside linebacker spot for Elko in 2019. Outside of that it’s anyone’s guess.
Anthony Hines III is the ideal replacement for Dodson, but he’s coming off knee injury that forced him to miss the entire 2018 season, which should cause concern not only for depth but if he’s even the same player the Aggies thought he could be.
Outside of those two, the Aggies don’t have another scholarship linebacker returning. Aside from Larry Pryor, who got reps at linebacker during practice in 2018, or someone like Vernon Jackson, the 6-foot-3, 240 pound beast of a running back, switching positions, the defense may rely on the freshman coming in the 2019 class.
Jimbo Fisher is not lacking in bodies for next season, just experience. Andre White, Tarian Lee Jr., RJ Orebo, and Ke’shun Brown will each have a chance to earn a starting job and, crucially, be relied upon should the starters get hit with injury. White is the highest ranked recruit of the bunch at No. 313 in the 247 Sports Composite.
History tells us true freshman typically need at least a season to adjust to the speed of college football. While it’s possible, it remains unlikely the Aggies found a diamond in the rough capable of starting successfully in year one.
Depth at linebacker is a very real concern for the 2019 season.