Texas A&M Aggies: Jarrett Johnson

COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- As part of Texas A&M's nightmarish 2013 season on defense, the Aggies linebackers endured more than their fair share of struggles.

Whether it was a position change, someone playing out of position or something as simple as inexperience keeping the Aggies from playing well, the group never quite found its footing in 2013.

The first week -- and even just the first day -- of training camp provided linebackers coach Mark Hagen with reason for optimism in 2014.

One area the Aggies' linebackers -- and the defense as a whole -- struggled with was communication. Sometimes when the ball was snapped, players were out of position or not certain of their assignments.

So far on the practice field there is much less of that, according to Hagen.

"Night and day,” Hagen said of the difference in communication. “The biggest thing we lacked last year were guys that had been there and done that ... I don't have to relive the 2014 season for you guys. It was constantly swimming uphill. And even though we got some pieces in the right place, the communication was never where it needed to be.

“We've got a different feel right now. It wasn't perfect. Going back to Friday, the first day of practice, even though it wasn't totally clean out there, there was never a time where you had guys looking left and looking right, [while the offense is] snapping the ball .... We got lined up and we played fast when the ball was snapped. That doesn't mean we played perfect in terms of the fits and the coverages, but we operated as 11 instead of 9 or 10 guys being on one page and a couple guys being on another page. That's a recipe for disaster."

Defensive line depth improving

One of the key tasks for Texas A&M’s defense since joining the SEC is building the type of depth needed to compete in the league. The defensive line is especially important in that area.

The Aggies have focused on the defensive line in recruiting and in 2014 were able to bring in five true freshman defensive linemen in the recruiting class plus a junior college transfer.

“It’s going to help everybody this season, not just me,” Julien Obioha said of the increased depth. “It’s going to help Alonzo Williams, Hardreck Walker, Daeshon Hall. There are two or three guys behind all those guys.”

Obioha was a true freshman who started in 2012 and is now entering his third season in Aggieland. The improvement in overall talent across the defensive line is evident to him.

“Depth is amazing compared to what it was [in 2012],” Obioha said. “Freshman year, we were playing maybe six guys [on the defensive line]. This year we’ll be able to play 12-14 guys.”

Defensive line coach Terry Price was able to secure top-flight talent in 2014, including the nation’s No. 1 defensive end, Myles Garrett, as well as ESPN 300 defensive end Qualen Cunningham and three-star defensive end Jarrett Johnson. Price seems pleased with what they’ve shown him thus far.

“Our biggest deficiency last year, to me, was speed on the edge of our defense at the defensive end spot,” Price said. “We went out and tried to find the best we could find, which have added speed and depth to our defense which is huge.”

Competition at kicker

Walk-on kicker and former FC Dallas goalkeeper Josh Lambo emerged as an unlikely hero last season for the Aggies, making a game-winning field goal as time expired at Ole Miss. Midway through the 2013 season, Lambo assumed place-kicking duties from Taylor Bertolet, but just because Lambo finished the year as the starter doesn’t automatically make him the go-to guy.

Bertolet, a junior, is having a strong training camp according to special-teams coach Jeff Banks, making this year’s battle at kicker a close one. Last season Bertolet was 2-for-3 on field goals and 23-of-26 on point-after attempts. Lambo was 8-for-10 on field goal tries and 50-of-51 PATs.

"I'm in a great position,” Banks said. “To have two Division I guys who can kick the ball 60 yards and have a little depth, length and distance .... I'm in a great position from that standpoint; I'm in a tough position in [deciding] who's going to be the best guy for the job. It's probably a lot like quarterback. If you name a guy right off the bat then the other guy might get discouraged.”

“So we're not going to do that. We're going to continue to compete during fall camp. We've still got at least 15-18 practices before we get ready for South Carolina and we have to do the best job we can to evaluate who is the best for the job.”

Lambo sat out the first week of training camp, recovering from a groin injury but said he should be 100 percent soon.
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- One of Kevin Sumlin's top priorities since becoming Texas A&M's head coach more than two years ago has been building a team that could compete in the trenches in the SEC.

[+] EnlargeGavin Stansbury
Rob Tringali/SportsChrome/Getty ImagesGavin Stansbury will be in the mix to be a big contributor on the Aggies defensive line.
Central to that effort is building the caliber of offensive and defensive lines necessary to win in the league. With a strong offensive line already on campus upon his arrival, Sumlin and his staff have been able to focus their efforts on recruiting SEC-caliber defensive linemen. So far, the Aggies appear to have done a good job stockpiling talent on the defensive line in the last two recruiting classes.

While young players continue to come in, that puts the onus on veterans on the roster to step it up. That's certainly the case at defensive end, where the Aggies had two true freshmen see time last year (Jay Arnold and Daeshon Hall) but also have a handful of veterans (Gavin Stansbury, Julien Obioha, Tyrell Taylor and Tyrone Taylor).

Arnold and Hall are both sitting out spring recovering from injuries and Stansbury has been limited as well, but Sumlin addressed the state of his defensive ends on Monday.

"Obioha has been good," Sumlin said. "He hasn't had any problems with that back, which has been great for us. Stansbury, we know what he can do so we just want him to be completely healthy, which has given the Taylors a lot of reps because we don't know what they can do. They haven't been put in those positions to have to play a bunch of snaps and be counted on. Gavin has proven to us what he can do on Saturdays when he's healthy. When he's not healthy, it's a different guy. So we want to make sure he's healthy for the fall."

Once Arnold and Hall are healthy, it stands to reason both will figure into the mix at defensive end in the fall since both did enough to earn playing time a season ago. But the current crew will also be joined in the summer by a trio of highly touted freshmen from the 2014 recruiting class: five-star prospect Myles Garrett, ESPN 300 prospect Qualen Cunningham and three-star prospect Jarrett Johnson.

That means now is the time for inexperienced players to prove they're worthy of playing time, because the competition will only get stiffer come August.

"That puts some of the onus on the Taylors to kind of show us what they can do and get them going because we've got two other D-ends in the program who have shown what they can do in Jay Arnold and Dae Dae (Daeshon Hall)," Sumlin said. "They're getting healthy and out running now. And the guys we recruited are obviously guys we expect to come in here and compete to play. In our way of thinking ... it's time for the Taylors to show what they can do and we're giving them every opportunity to do that right now."

Though the Aggies have been precautionary with Stansbury this spring, Sumlin was encouraged by his progress last season and feels like he is now a proven commodity.

"Defensively, Gavin was probably the most improved player that we had coming through the year," Sumlin said. "That's why I said, when he's healthy, he's really, really effective for us."

Obioha is a two-year starter who said earlier this spring that he feels good. His veteran presence will be welcome in the fall, too.

For the Taylor twins, Tyrell (a senior) and Tyrone (a redshirt sophomore), now is the time to perform, Sumlin says.

"What we're trying to do right now is get the guys healthy that have experience and the Taylor twins, who don't have that type of experience, they need to prove where they are in their capability to be able to help us win," Sumlin said.
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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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 has 14 commits in the 2014 class, and the Aggies have done a good job of addressing needs at multiple positions. With seven months left until signing day, they are still pursuing plenty of players. Here's five positions where they could use another player or two in the class:

Defensive end: The Aggies are pursuing multiple defensive ends in the 2014 class and at the top of their want list is ESPN 300 defensive end Myles Garrett (Arlington, Texas/James Martin), the No. 1 prospect in Texas. They also have an offer out to ESPN 300 prospects Qualen Cunningham (Chandler, Ariz./Hamilton) and Solomon Thomas (Coppell, Texas/Coppell) among others.

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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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Jarrett JohnsonSam Khan Jr./ESPNDefensive end Jarrett Johnson chose Texas A&M over Texas and TCU, among others.
A commitment seemed imminent given his words, but a couple postponements and the lack of an appearance at camp for Texas A&M 2014 defensive end target Jarrett Johnson (Katy, Texas/Seven Lakes) made some Aggies fans wonder if a commitment would ever come.

The wait ended on Sunday night. Johnson is commit No. 11 for the Aggies.

The 6-foot-3, 225-pound prospect ended his recruitment on Sunday, calling the coaching staff to deliver news of his commitment, according to Seven Lakes coach Lydell Wilson.

On Friday, Johnson spoke of plans of attending both Texas and Texas A&M camps to get one final look at both schools, even though he stated the Aggies were his clear leader and he felt the gap might be too large for the Longhorns to pick up ground.

He didn't attend either camp, but decided to make his choice official on Sunday. Johnson's primary recruiter was special teams coordinator and tight ends coach Jeff Banks and defensive line coach Terry Price.

When asked earlier this week why the Aggies had such a lead in the race for his services, Johnson pointed to a few factors.

"Their coaching staff," Johnson said. "I feel real good around them. I feel real good about UT, but A&M, it's just a little bit better. More like family, closer to home and they've had more recent success."

Aside from his top two of Texas A&M and Texas, Johnson had offers from Baylor, Missouri, Northwestern, Oklahoma and most recently, TCU. He maintained that he wanted to stay in-state and though he considered others, his top two have been the Longhorns and Aggies since they both offered in February.

Johnson is the 11th commit of the Aggies' 2014 class and the second defensive line commitment. He is the first defensive end commit of the class.
HOUSTON -- Earlier this spring, it appeared Katy (Texas) Seven Lakes 2014 defensive end Jarrett Johnson was ready to end his recruitment and make a pledge.

Instead, he waited. Allowing for input from members of his inner circle, Johnson decided to utilize a little bit more time.

With summer approaching, Seven Lakes' spring football complete and college camp season approaching, Johnson again is feeling like the time to commit might be drawing near. Time has given him a chance to think, but one thing hasn't changed.


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The spring has been good to 2015 receiver Kemah Siverand (Houston/Cypress Ridge). Plenty of college coaches have come through the school to see him and on Thursday, he scored his first offer, from Texas.

He'll attend Longhorns camp on June 9 in Austin, but first is a stop this weekend in College Station, Texas, at Texas A&M's first camp of the year. The 6-foot, 178-pound prospect feels good about where he stands with the Aggies after assistant coaches Clarence McKinney and Jeff Banks stopped by Cypress Ridge last week to evaluate him.


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Tales from the Road: Texas A&M 

May, 29, 2013
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Every Wednesday, Sam Khan Jr. will take a quick-hit look at some of the top recruits and storylines facing Texas A&M recruiting for the week.


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Tales From The Road: Texas A&M 

May, 15, 2013
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Every Wednesday, Sam Khan Jr. will take a quick-hit look at some of the top recruits and storylines facing Texas A&M recruiting for the week.

This week’s targets: The Aggies are making sure to comb the state for linebackers now that one of their top targets at the position, 2014 inside linebacker Zach Whitley Jr., is committed elsewhere (Alabama). Spring (Texas) Klein Oak inside linebacker Josh Mabin and outside linebacker Ja'Von Shelley will get looks this week when linebackers coach Mark Hagen and defensive coordinator Mark Snyder are expected at the Panthers' spring game on Thursday. Hagen went by Klein Oak last week to see the pair. Texas A&M has also checked out 2014 Dallas South Oak Cliff defensive end Silvester Hayes, who could project as an outside linebacker and is someone the Aggies are evaluating.

Area of interest: The Aggies' efforts in Louisiana paid some dividends in the last recruiting class, as Texas A&M hauled in three prospects from the neighboring state in the 2013 class, including ESPN 300 cornerback Noel Ellis. So it shouldn't come as a surprise to see them targeting high-level prospects from the state in 2014. They're in the running for several notable kids from "The Boot," including five-star athlete Speedy Noil, ESPN 150 defensive tackle Gerald Willis III and four-star quarterback Brandon Harris. All 10 Aggies commits are Texas products, but expect them to stay in the hunt for those three Louisianans.

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Recruiting notes: The Joeckel impact 

April, 19, 2013
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Former Texas A&M left tackle Luke Joeckel's name could be the first called when the NFL draft begins on Thursday.

If it does play out that way, it would be the latest in a long line of landmark events that have occurred since the start of last football season that have raised Texas A&M's profile and, as a result, helped the Aggies in recruiting.


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KATY, Texas -- The decision is not an easy one for Katy Seven Lakes defensive end Jarrett Johnson.

[+] EnlargeJarrett Johnson
Sam Khan Jr./ESPNDE Jarrett Johnson says he favors the Aggies because of their success in 2012.
Though the rising senior has several offers, two schools stand above the rest for him: Texas and Texas A&M. He has taken multiple trips to both campuses, and he is sure he wants to stay in the state, so those two schools will be the ones from which he chooses.

After a second visit to Texas A&M in as many weeks, Johnson knows at least one thing: The Aggies remain the team to beat for him.


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