There’s a reason elite defensive coordinators want to work with Jimbo Fisher. Few offensive-minded coaches value defense quite like him.
“I always joke, I'm one of the offensive coaches that believes you have to play great defense to win a championship,” Fisher said. “It starts up front – I love recruiting defensive personnel.”
The fruits of that labor are starting to show up in a significant way on the field. In two seasons, well-regarded defensive coordinator Mike Elko helped take the unit from No. 78 to No. 29 in total defense and No. 87 to No. 37 in scoring defense. Between intense recruiting and a defense that returns 74 percent of its production, an elite unit is around the corner.
Only two starters are gone from the Aggies’ improving defense. Replacing the Baltimore Ravens draftee Justin Madubuike won’t be easy, but Texas A&M got 15 practices without him during bowl season. Jayden Peevy and Bobby Brown III are set to take over the middle of the line. All five defensive ends on the depth chart are back; don’t be surprised to see super sophomore DeMarvin Leal steal a starting job.
Anthony Hines and Buddy Johnson combine to form an elite linebacker duo. The pair combined for 150 tackles and 19.5 tackles for loss a year ago. However, building depth is still an ongoing process. No other projected linebacker posted more than 15 tackles.
“Linebacker experience is vital because you see so many looks in college football,” Fisher said. “We’re getting where we need to be, but we’ve got to keep adding [depth].”
Where the defense should continue growing the most is in the secondary. Safety Demani Richardson is an All-American in the making. Brian Williams, Keldrick Carper and many others will compete for snaps at the other safety spots. Cornerback should be an open competition with Elijah Blades back from injuries, the No. 2 JUCO corner entering and numerous young players flowing in.
Few programs nationally can match Texas A&M’s combination of talent and experience returning on defense. If some of the young talent pans out, the Aggies can take a final step towards a top-end defense.
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