Texas A&M football lost three of its four defensive line starters and two starting linebackers; but can the run defense be just as good in 2019?
It may not seem like much to go from 7-6 to 9-4, but the difference in Texas A&M football was so much more than just two wins. They were far more competitive in their losses and anyone who watched the team could tell they were more disciplined, executed better, and fought to the end of every game.
It’s cliché to say it, but what your eyes saw on the field in 2018 was far better than in 2017. Part of that was the hiring of Mike Elko, who remarkably turned around the defense in his first year as the defensive coordinator.
The most obvious difference was up front. Although Elko often brought an extra defender into the box to defend against the run (which had its effect on the pass defense), the defensive line set the tone. Led by seniors Landis Durham, Kingsley Keke, and Daylon Mack, all of whom are currently on NFL teams, the Aggies finished No. 3 in rushing yards allowed per game and No. 8 in yards per attempt given up.
It would stand to reason, then, that the team losing all three of those guys, plus two starting linebackers and a starting safety who played well against the run, might take a step back in 2019. But could the run defense still be just as good?
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One reason it could is the lone returning defensive lineman might be the best of them and could get even better in 2019. Justin Madubuike is a lock to make an All SEC team and is one of the best returning defensive linemen in the conference. While the experience around him left, it is full of potential.
Bobby Brown was a 4-star recruit who fended off Nick Saban to join the Aggies and got playing time as a true freshman, then packed on several pounds of muscle to show up at spring ball at 330 pounds, supposedly still as quick as he was at 290. Um…can you say terrifying?
Michael Clemons missed all of last season with an injury but has reportedly been unblockable in each of the previous two springs. He could wind up a better option at defensive end than either Keke or Durham were as he is more of a complete player.
Tyree Johnson is expected to start at the opposite defensive end spot as he impressed the coaching staff enough in 2018 to get him in the rotation as a true sophomore. Fisher often raved about Johnson after practices last year.
Behind that expected starting group is 5-star 2019 recruit DeMarvin Leal, 4-star 2018 recruit Max Wright, 4-star 2019 recruit Derick Hunter, and Jayden Peevy, who was also in the defensive tackle rotation last season.
It’s never easy to replace a position group that was full of experience, especially when they all were good enough to be drafted (or signed) into the NFL. However, the Aggies were deep at the position in 2018 and could be even deeper now. Don’t be surprised if the run defense stacks up in 2019.