Editor's note: This is the fourth part of a weeklong series looking at five players to watch in spring practice, which begins Feb. 28 for Texas A&M
It’s no secret that Texas A&M’s defense left much to be desired in 2013.
The Aggies were downright bad throughout much of the season and the statistics illustrated as much. The reasons given for those struggles were plentiful, perhaps none more so than youth and inexperience. There were 11 freshmen, either redshirt or true, that occupied a spot on the two-deep depth chart for much of the season, and anybody who has been through the rugged SEC will tell you that can be a recipe for disaster.
While the Aggies went through growing pains en route to their 9-4 season, ranking in the bottom 15 nationally in rushing yards and total yards allowed per game, there is hope in College Station, Texas, for a brighter future, in large part because of all the young players that saw the field in 2013.
And perhaps no position is more important than middle linebacker, the spot that will be manned by sophomore Jordan Mastrogiovanni.
As a freshman, Mastrogiovanni saw action in all 13 games last season, starting twice: against Alabama on Sept. 14 and in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl against Duke.
Defensive coordinator Mark Snyder felt comfortable enough to give Mastrogiovanni the nod in the most high-profile game of the season, though the next week the Aggies shifted their focus at the position to Darian Claiborne, who turned in a strong freshman campaign even though he had to change positions midway through the season.
This season, Claiborne is expected to move back to his more natural position of weakside linebacker and Mastrogiovanni will be expected to step in at middle linebacker. The Dallas Jesuit product got a taste of it in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl, having to start in place of Claiborne, who was suspended.
For the season, Mastrogiovanni turned in 26 tackles, a tackle for loss, an interception and a pass defensed. In the bowl game against Duke he was second on the team with eight tackles and logged a half tackle for loss.
During the latter part of the season, Mastrogiovanni saw increased practice repetitions at the position as Claiborne’s backup and gained some valuable experience in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl as well as the practices leading up to the bowl game where he saw first-team reps. As an ESPN 300 recruit who was part of the 2013 recruiting class, there are high hopes for his future in Aggieland.
And if the Aggies are to improve on defense in 2014, they’ll have to see improvement from virtually all positions, including middle linebacker, one of the most important positions on the field. Mastrogiovanni’s role will be key and his progress during spring practice will be worth watching for Texas A&M.