Tuesday, February 26, 2013
Position breakdown: Linebacker
By Sam Khan Jr.
The Texas A&M linebacker corps served as a backbone for the Aggies defense in 2012.
With a trio of upperclassmen as starters, including two senior leaders in Sean Porter and Jonathan Stewart, it was one area the Aggies defensive coaches didn't have to worry too much about.
Could early enrollee linebacker Brett Wade play as a freshman in 2013?
With Porter and Stewart having graduated and looking toward NFL futures, the Aggies will have two new bodies to line up next to the lone remaining starter of the group, Steven Jenkins.
Fortunately for the Aggies, they recruited heavily at the position in 2013.
Jenkins, who will be a senior this fall, returns after a solid 2012. He was third on the team in tackles (79), fourth in tackles for loss (5.5) and tied for fourth in sacks (two) while playing in 12 games (he missed one because of a suspension for a violation of team rules).
Should Jenkins return to the weakside linebacker position he manned last season, that leaves the middle linebacker and strongside linebacker positions up for grabs. One candidate that could get a long look is the player who backed up Jenkins last year and started in his place for the one-game absence, Donnie Baggs.
As a sophomore, Baggs played in 12 games and produced in his limited role, picking up 4.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks plus an interception.
Justin Bass, who appeared in 12 games and was Stewart's backup at middle linebacker returns, as does Shaun Ward, who appeared in eight games.
But with a large batch of recruits coming in from the 2013 class, this is an area where you could see newcomers making an instant impact. Of the six new linebackers joining Texas A&M, four of them enrolled in January and three of them will be eligible to play: ESPN JC 100 outside linebacker Tommy Sanders, four-star high school linebacker Reggie Chevis (Houston/Sharpstown) and four-star linebacker from Kennedale (Texas) High School Brett Wade.
Sanders, who was the top-ranked junior college outside linebacker in the 2013 class, is someone who could compete for time in short order. The 6-foot-2, 215-pound prospect picked the Aggies over a host of other suitors, including Ohio State, South Carolina, Florida State and Mississippi State.
Chevis and Wade are true freshmen but by enrolling during the spring semester, they've been able to hit the weight room and get a jump start. Getting repetitions in the spring will be valuable to both, especially if the Aggies have to lean on one of them in the two-deep. Wade will begin his A&M career working out at weakside linebacker, while Chevis will likely be groomed as a middle linebacker.
The fourth linebacker that enrolled in January, A.J. Hilliard, transferred from TCU and will be able to participate in spring drills but will have to sit out the season per NCAA transfer rules.
When fall arrives, ESPN 300 inside linebacker Jordan Mastrogiovanni and three-star inside linebacker Darian Claiborne will join the fray, giving the Aggies even more options for possible depth at the position.
One player to keep an eye on will be sophomore Michael Richardson. As a freshman, Richardson appeared in nine games but suffered a spine injury when the Aggies hosted Sam Houston State. He had successful surgery and though it's unclear what his future holds, if he could make it back in time for the season it would be a significant boost to the linebacker group. Richardson was listed as the backup to Porter at strongside linebacker before his injury.