- Sam Khan Jr., ESPN Staff Writer
Many things have come to define the SEC’s success.
Among those factors is the size, strength and depth of defensive lines across the conference. And as Texas A&M embarks on its first season in the league, it's the one area where the Aggies are playing a little catch-up.
As the Aggies transition away from the 3-4 alignment to a 4-3 this year and for the foreseeable future, head coach Kevin Sumlin and defensive coordinator Mark Snyder say that the defensive line is a focal point.
"We have to recruit to this system," Snyder said. "We're shy numbers up front, no doubt about it, because of the way we were built and what was recruited to. We're going to have to recruit to a 4-3 and get some depth up front, especially in this league -- that's where it all starts."
While there are veterans across the first group of the front four -- projected starters Kirby Ennis, Jonathan Mathis, Damontre Moore and Spencer Nealy are all juniors or seniors -- it's the youth and inexperience of the following groups that is of concern.
"We've got to develop depth in our front, which we did not have in the spring," Sumlin said. "We're going to have some young guys play early in our defensive line."
Backup defensive ends Caleb Russell and Gavin Stansbury appeared in all 13 games a year ago but the reserve trio of defensive end Brandon Alexander and defensive tackles Shayvion Hatten and Ivan Robinson have appeared in a combined eight games and that doesn't include the freshmen signees along the defensive line who may figure in at some point.
In the 2013 class, Texas A&M holds commitments from Rockwall (Texas) Heath teammates Jay Arnold and Jordan Points, defensive tackles Isaiah Golden (Carthage, Texas/Carthage), Kerrick Huggins (Dallas/Skyline), Houston/Westfield defensive tackle Hardreck Walker (Houston/Westfield) and Rob Zimmerman (Hutchinson, Kan./Hutchinson CC).
The Aggies hold more commitments from defensive linemen than any other position in the 2013 recruiting class and the coaches have clearly focused on that group. While none of those players will be on campus to help the Aggies this year, the added bodies should help in the future.
In the meantime, the coaches are hoping that the young players that are thrown into the fire can benefit from the experience.
"Unfortunately for us, we're going to have to get some young kids on the field early this year," Sumlin said. "But from a depth perspective, I think that's going to help us moving forward down the road, maybe a couple years from now."
Snyder said success up front is of utmost importance if the Aggies are going to be productive as a defense.
"Obviously, in this conference, you have to stop the run, first and foremost, or you're not going to get a pass," he said. "You have to stop the run and get off the field on third down against some very good offenses in this league."
11hSharon Katz, ESPN Stats & Information
2dEdward Aschoff and Greg Ostendorf