Texas A&M Aggies: DeShawn Washington

When it comes to Texas A&M's spring, the first question surrounding the Aggies often relates to the quarterback battle and who is in the lead to succeed Johnny Manziel.

The next question is usually relates to the defense, and how much better -- if at all -- the unit will be after a disastrous 2013 season.

While neither can be definitively answered, when it comes to the defense, there is at least some reason for optimism coming out of spring football. The Aggies can't get much worse than they were a year ago, when the ranked last or near last in the SEC in virtually every major statistical category, but there were signs during spring practice that indicate that brighter days are ahead for defensive coordinator Mark Snyder's group.

One reason the Aggies have to feel better about their defense is the experience they'll have. Last year the root of the struggles seemed to be the youth and inexperience up and down the depth chart, with the Aggies having as many as a dozen freshmen in the defensive two-deep.

Though the Aggies will still be relatively young in some areas (particularly linebacker), most of the players who are candidates to start or see significant time were thrown in the fire last season.

Middle linebacker Jordan Mastrogiovanni is a perfect example. Though he'll only be a sophomore this fall, he started against Alabama last Sept. 14 and in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl against Duke. Mastrogiovanni called it "overwhelming," but as the guy getting first-team work at his position this spring, coaches have heaped praise upon the former ESPN 300 prospect.

Should defensive tackle Isaiah Golden and linebacker Darian Claiborne return from suspensions (both missed the spring after February arrests), they too will benefit. Both started a large portion of the season as true freshmen.

Other players who could be in position to contribute, such as linebacker Shaan Washington or cornerback Noel Ellis, weren't starters but saw enough field time to give them a taste of what life in the SEC is like.

Add to those young players a host of returning veterans, such as the starting secondary of Deshazor Everett, De'Vante Harris, Howard Matthews and Julien Obioha, Gavin Stansbury and Alonzo Williams and the Aggies can begin piecing together a more experienced defense.

With so many players returning (nine starters return from last year's defense) and a top-five recruiting class on the way, the Aggies will continue to add to their talent level on defense. One defensive player is already on campus (defensive tackle Zaycoven Henderson) and showed flashes of his potential during spring football.

With players like defensive end Myles Garrett, the nation's No. 4 overall prospect, ESPN 300 athlete Nick Harvey, who will be a defensive back at Texas A&M and other ESPN 300 prospects like Deshawn Washington, Otaro Alaka, Qualen Cunningham, Armani Watts and Josh Walker, competition will only increase when preseason training camp starts.


The increased depth on the defensive line could be the biggest factor in helping the defense improve. Snyder indicated how critical it was earlier this month.

"Up front for the first time, we're going to be able to roll people," Snyder said. "I told [defensive line coach] Terry [Price] … that when we get to the fall, we're going to have to practice our rotations, which is a great thing."

For the Aggies, there really is nowhere to go but up defensively. They could be another year away from being the kind of defense they hope to be, but the developments this spring suggest at least some improvement is in order in 2014.
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Building the proper depth along the offensive and defensive lines has been one of Texas A&M's chief goals since joining the SEC.

In a league often dominated by line-of-scrimmage play, the Aggies know they have to be up to par if they want to be long-term contenders in the conference. On the offensive line, that hasn't been an issue. They've stayed relatively healthy and had high-level players across the front five.

Zaycovian Henderson
William Wilkerson/ESPNEarly enrollee Zaycoven Henderson is making an impact at Texas A&M.
On defense, it's another story.

While the Aggies had the luxury of a mostly veteran line and a highly productive defensive end in Damontre Moore in 2012, their inaugural SEC season, the 2013 season brought something totally different. The Aggies were young, inexperienced and not particularly deep as they continued to recruit in an effort to get better numbers on the defensive line.

After the Aggies' 13th practice of the spring on Wednesday, defensive coordinator Mark Snyder indicated that they're making progress toward that effort.

"Up front for the first time, we're going to be able to roll people," Snyder said. "I told [defensive line coach] Terry [Price] yesterday that when we get to the fall, we're going to have to practice our rotations, which is a great thing."

Snyder and Price could look at opponents such as Alabama, Auburn and LSU last season with envy. Those programs have enough talent on their defensive fronts to freely substitute and not worry about a drop-off in level of play. Texas A&M hasn't had that luxury the last two seasons, but with a heavy focus on defensive line recruiting in recent seasons and a highly regarded group coming in from the 2014 recruiting class, the Aggies are taking steps toward having that ability.

One benefit is that the Aggies return virtually their entire defensive line from 2013. Those same players who were rushed into duty as youngsters, such as defensive tackles Isaiah Golden and Hardreck Walker and defensive ends Daeshon Hall and Jay Arnold, will no longer be freshmen and have a year of SEC experience under their belts.

Add into the mix five-star prospect Myles Garrett, ESPN 300 defensive end Qualen Cunningham and four-star defensive tackle Zaycoven Henderson as part of a five-man defensive line class, and suddenly the pieces begin to come in place.

Garrett, Cunningham and Jarrett Johnson are a trio of defensive ends due in Aggieland in the summer and it has pushed the incumbent defensive ends, such as junior Julien Obioha, to raise their level of play this spring.

"Obioha's fighting for his life because competition makes us all better and he knows what's coming," Snyder said.

Henderson is the only one of the five defensive line recruits to enroll in January and he'll be joined in the summer by Deshawn Washington. Henderson has already made waves in his short time on campus, but he still has progress to make this summer.

"(The new) guys, (they) don't know how to practice. (Henderson is) a little bit out of shape," Snyder said. "He does have a big rear end and he's a plugger in the middle. When he's fresh, he's not bad. ... Right now he's three plays and he's done. He's going to bring some beef up front for us."

Veterans such as Obioha, senior defensive end Gavin Stansbury and junior defensive tackle Alonzo Williams, who have two years of experience, are expected to have significant roles again this season. With those returnees, a redshirt freshman entering the mix [Justin Manning], the returning youngsters and incoming recruits on the way, the future on the defensive front looks a little bit better for the Aggies after a disastrous 2013 on defense.

"We're not there," Snyder said of the defensive depth. "We still need another recruiting class, but we're way, way, way closer."
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Texas A&M’s work toward putting a defensive product on the field that is drastically better than the one that lined up in 2013 is among the most important offseason tasks.

Climbing out of the SEC cellar in major defensive statistical categories is critical if the Aggies wish to succeed in the SEC West. Central to that goal is the performance of the Aggies’ defensive line, a unit that is a work in progress this spring.

[+] Enlarge Julien Obioha
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesJulien Obioha is a season contributor on the Aggies' DL. Now he's looking for some help.
There’s a mix of missing bodies due to injury (defensive ends Jay Arnold, Daeshon Hall and Tyrone Taylor) as well as one to a suspension (Isaiah Golden, who recently withdrew from school but is expected back). That has given a chance for new faces to get turns in the rotation and show their worthiness to the coaching staff.

“Zaycoven [Henderson] has continued to impress,” head coach Kevin Sumlin said of the true freshman, who enrolled in January.

Henderson, at 6-foot-1 and 310 pounds, appears to be a possible instant-impact player. The four-star 2014 prospect, who was previously committed to TCU and Texas before eventually landing in Aggieland, brings the size and ability the Aggies need to improve their quality and depth at defensive tackle. That’s significant for a run defense that allowed 222 rushing yards per game and ranked 110th nationally (as well as last in the SEC) in that area.

Another defensive tackle making waves this month is one from the previous recruiting class: 2013 signee Justin Manning.

Ranked as the top defensive tackle in the state of Texas in his class, and the ninth-best nationally, Manning didn’t see a snap of game action last fall while he redshirted. But Golden’s absence has allowed Manning to get some time in the two-deep this spring and show the improvements he has made.

“[He] showed some twitch that he had in high school,” Sumlin said. “He lost a little weight; when he got here he was out of shape. He has come on.”

If Henderson and Manning can contribute, that helps bolster the Aggies up the middle, where they already have veteran Alonzo Williams and sophomore Hardreck Walker, who also contributed as a true freshman. With ESPN 300 defensive tackle DeShawn Washington arriving this summer and Golden expected to return, the Aggies could begin to show the kind of depth Sumlin has been pining for since taking over the program.

At defensive end, there’s a mix of veterans and youth. Julien Obioha, who has been a starter since his true freshman season, is now a junior. Senior Gavin Stansbury is coming off his best season in Aggieland, showing flashes of his potential last fall. Senior Tyrell Taylor is back also and has been getting turns this spring.

The two young players at the position who are sitting out with injuries this spring -- Arnold and Hall -- both saw time as true freshmen last season, suggesting a promising future for each. And in the summer, the Aggies will welcome the services of five-star recruit Myles Garrett as well as ESPN 300 defensive end Qualen Cunningham and three-star prospect Jarrett Johnson.

Obioha said he is looking forward to the increased depth.

“I’m really excited,” he said. “My first couple of years here I had to play 60-70 plays [per game] and you don’t want to play that much. When you think about a two-deep or a three-deep, you want to play maybe 35 plays and having those 35 plays be where you can come 100 percent every play and you’re not tired.”

Defensive line coach Terry Price’s message to his group this spring has been clear.

“Last year, bottom of the SEC, bottom 25 in the nation, that’s not going to happen this year, that’s been the message,” Obioha said. “We’re going to be completely different this year from the bottom to the top and it all starts with the D-line.”

Top overall position classes in 2014 

February, 21, 2014
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With national signing day in the books, RecruitingNation is looking at which programs compiled the nation's best overall position classes in 2014. For the full top position classes series, click here.

Quarterbacks: Florida
The Florida Gators had a major need at quarterback in the Class of 2014, and Will Muschamp and staff more than filled it, signing two of the nation’s top signal-callers. Third-ranked dual-threat prospect Will Grier (Davidson, N.C./Davidson Day School) is already on campus and preparing for spring practice, while No. 7 dual-threat prospect Treon Harris (Miami/Booker T. Washington) was a huge signing-day flip from Florida State. Both prospects are great athletes who are accustomed to operating up-tempo offenses. This should also help newly hired offensive coordinator Kurt Roper, who will install a similar scheme in Gainesville.

Top position classes: DL 

February, 14, 2014
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With national signing day in the books, RecruitingNation is looking at the top position classes. For the full series, click here.

Nationally (and SEC)
Texas A&M went into the 2014 class knowing that size and athleticism was an absolute must on its defensive front. And Kevin Sumlin and staff delivered on those glaring needs. Leading the way is No. 1 defensive end and five-star player Myles Garrett (Arlington, Texas/James Martin), who has the size, speed and power combination to be a difference-maker early on next fall. The 6-foot-5, 247-pound Garrett is joined at defensive end by ESPN 300 No. 203 Qualen Cunningham (Chandler, Ariz./Hamilton), and high three-star Jarrett Johnson (Katy, Texas/Seven Lakes), who has a nonstop motor. While the Aggies have some talented young defensive tackles, continuing to add size and athleticism to the interior was a must. No. 150 DeShawn Washington (Nederland, Texas/Nederland) and four-star early enrollee Zaycoven Henderson (Longview, Texas/Longview) add disruptive explosiveness and athleticism.

The Aggies had the nation’s best defensive line class; here’s which schools had the best in each of the remaining power conferences:


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Updated ESPN 300: SEC analysis 

January, 14, 2014
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The high school football season and postseason All-Star games have come to a close. With the official ending of the Class of 2014’s high school careers, it’s time for the final ESPN 300.

Here’s a look at the biggest movers from prospects committed to or considering SEC programs.

[+] EnlargeBo Scarbrough
Miller Safrit/ESPNAlabama commit Bo Scarbrough climbed nine spots and, more importantly, became a five-star prospect in the final ESPN 300.
ATH Bo Scarbrough (Tuscaloosa, Ala./IMG Academy)
School: Alabama

Scarbrough may have only moved up nine spots from No. 21 to 12, but the jump was actually a huge one considering the 6-foot-2, 215-pound went from being ranked as a four-star prospects to finishing as one of 15 five-star prospects in the class. Scarbrough remains committed to the Crimson Tide despite officially visiting Ole Miss, Notre Dame and UCLA, while Florida State and Florida continue to make a push. Scarbrough makes his official visit to Alabama on Jan. 17. He remains the No. 2 athlete overall behind Speedy Noil (New Orleans/Edna Karr High).


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ESPN 300 DE Cunningham headed to A&M

October, 24, 2013
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While Texas A&M's current defense continues to take its lumps, it's future defense is looking better by the day.

The Aggies landed their third commitment in less than a week when ESPN 300 defensive end Qualen Cunningham (Chandler, Ariz./Hamilton) jumped on board, committing to the Aggies on Thursday night.

Cunningham, the No. 234 prospect in the ESPN 300, is the second defensive end and third defensive lineman since Oct. 18 to commit to Texas A&M. ESPN 300 defensive end Myles Garrett, the No. 7 player in the country and No. 2 defensive end, started the chain reaction.

On Monday, it was a 2015 prospect -- ESPN Junior 300 defensive tackle Daylon Mack -- who pledged to the Aggies.

"I've been thinking about it a lot, and I had my list narrowed down to schools I felt comfortable with," Cunningham said. "It just seemed like the best situation for me, individually, being able to play in the SEC. It's a great school, and I'm really excited for it."

Cunningham is a longtime Texas A&M target and a legacy. His father, Rick Cunningham, played offensive line for Texas A&M in the late 1980s, was a fourth-round pick in the 1990 NFL draft and played eight seasons in the league. Rick was actually a roommate of former Texas A&M defensive lineman Terry Price, the Aggies' current defensive line coach and lead recruiter for Qualen.

"Coach Price has always been real since day one," Qualen said. "He was a roommate of my pops back in college. Coach Price and I became really, really cool."

Qualen took a visit to Texas A&M in March for the Maroon-and-White spring football game and also in September, the weekend the Aggies hosted Alabama.

"The Bama game gave me a chance to see how live competition is and how the '12th Man' is," Cunningham said. "The fan support is amazing down at A&M. The hospitality that I got in Texas was great. It felt right."

He is the 16th commitment in the Aggies' 2014 class and the ninth that projects to play on the defensive side of the ball. Loading up on the defensive line is particularly notable for the Aggies, who currently are 118th in the country in total defense and 112th in the nation in rushing defense.

The 6-foot-4, 220-pound Cunningham is a four-star prospect who possessed double-digit scholarship offers, including offers from Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oregon, UCLA, USC and Washington, as well as home-state schools Arizona and Arizona State.

He's the third defensive end in the Aggies' 2014 class, joining Garrett and Katy (Texas) Seven Lakes defensive end Jarrett Johnson. There are four defensive linemen in the Aggies' class, including ESPN 300 defensive tackle DeShawn Washington (Nederland, Texas/Nederland).

"It's definitely a factor, but I'm confident in my abilities," Cunningham said. "I know the players that are going to be on the field are going to be the best players. I just have to step up and compete, and at the end of the day, that's all it's about."

The Aggies, who had the No. 9 class in the country coming into Thursday, hold 11 commitments from ESPN 300 prospects. Cunningham is the country's 22nd-ranked defensive end.

"I'm just glad I finally got to pull the trigger," Cunningham said. "It feels good."

Texas A&M instant impact recruits 

June, 25, 2013
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Here is a look at the top 10 Texas A&M commits and targets who are capable of making the biggest impact in 2014:

1. OLB Hoza Scott (La Porte, Texas/La Porte)
6-foot-3/225 pounds
ESPN 300 rank: 42


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ESPN 300 analysis: Texas A&M Aggies 

June, 17, 2013
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If you want evidence as to why Texas A&M has one of the best recruiting classes in the nation, look no further than the latest ESPN 300.

Last season, the Aggies -- who had college football's No. 8 recruiting class -- hauled in 10 players in the 2013 ESPN 300.


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Hoza ScottMax Olson/ESPN.com2014 standout Hoza Scott headlines Texas A&M's class.

COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- With dozens of recruits inside the McFerrin Athletic Center for junior day and the 2013 Texas A&M Aggies about to hit the field for the first practice of spring football, music came from the speakers.

This isn't an uncommon practice in Aggieland. Since Kevin Sumlin took over as head coach, music has been a constant at practices to help keep energy and tempo high. In many ways, the first song of the spring seemed symbolic as Drake's "Started from the Bottom," kicked things off.

"Started from the bottom, now we're here."

The same could be said for the Aggies, in more ways than one. While not exactly at the bottom, many figured they wouldn't be anywhere near the top of the SEC. In their first season, the Aggies went 11-2, tied for second in the SEC West and will go into 2013 as potential preseason top-five team.


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Scouts: DT Washington explosive 

March, 2, 2013
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The scouts team at ESPN took a close look at the video of Nederland (Texas) High School defensive tackle DeShawn Washington, who committed to Texas A&M on Saturday evening after the completion of its second junior day.

Washington had offers from Texas, Oklahoma, Texas Tech and Baylor, among others. Here's a sampling of our scouts' take on why Washington is a coveted prospect:

"Washington moves around the D-Line in high school, but at the next level will be more an interior player. He possesses good size at this stage with room to still add some more needed bulk. He can be an active and physical player who displays good explosiveness off the ball. He demonstrates the ability to fire out low with hip roll on contact and can generate good power from his lower body and put a blocker on his heels. He flashes good upper body strength and with his aggressive nature he can push blockers aside."

Read the full scouting report on Washington's profile

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Washington is No. 10 for Aggies 

March, 2, 2013
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Texas A&M's second junior day of the year has gotten better as the hours have passed.

After scoring two commitments in the afternoon, a third 2014 player is on board in the form of Nederland (Texas) High School defensive tackle DeShawn Washington. At 6-foot-3 and 275 pounds, Washington is the 10th commitment in the Aggies' 2014 class and the first defensive tackle.

On his Twitter account, Washington posted "It's official, I'm going to be a Aggie," and also confirmed his commitment via text message to GigEmNation. He was one of several prospects in attendance at Texas A&M's junior day on Saturday in College Station, Texas. He joins Dylan Sumner-Gardner and Armani Watts as prospects who gave their pledge to the Aggies on Saturday.

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ESPN Watch List receiver Armanti Foreman spoke with Texas A&M coaches before, but coming into this week, he had no idea an offer was on its way from the Aggies.

The 5-foot-11, 175-pound receiver from Texas City (Texas) High School has been committed to Oklahoma since October, but recently, he has seen his offer list grow as coaches have gotten a hold of Foreman's junior highlights. On Saturday, Foreman got an offer from Texas. The Aggies entered the picture on Monday and Florida jumped in the ring on Wednesday.


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Recruiting notes: Johnson talks UT, TAMU 

February, 22, 2013
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The increased attention and piling up of offers has been a new experience for Katy (Texas) Seven Lakes defensive end Jarrett Johnson.

Johnson has seen his stock rise recently, picking up a slew of offers after his initial two, Missouri and Northwestern.


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