Texas A&M Aggies: Josh Walker

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.
Editor's note: This is the third part of a weeklong series looking at five position battles to watch in spring practice, which begins Feb. 28 for Texas A&M.

When it comes to linebackers, the 2013 season was one of change for Texas A&M, at least when compared to 2012.

[+] EnlargeDonnie Baggs
Sam Khan Jr./ESPNSenior Donnie Baggs could get the first crack at Texas A&M's starting strongside linebacker job.
After a 2012 season in which the linebackers were a model of consistency with then-seniors Sean Porter and Jonathan Stewart and then-junior Steven Jenkins, 2013 brought much more shuffling.

With Jenkins the only returning starter among the linebacker corps, youth and/or inexperience was served. The Aggies went through an early-season change at middle linebacker, started a converted receiver at strongside linebacker at times and threw some true freshmen into action early for myriad reasons, whether it was injury, suspension or ineffectiveness.

This season, and particularly this spring, linebacker, particularly the strongside position, will be a compelling position to watch.

With Darian Claiborne likely to start at weakside linebacker and Jordan Mastrogiovanni projected to be the starter at middle linebacker going into spring football, it leaves several candidates to battle for the strongside linebacker job.

The candidates will be numerous. Donnie Baggs, who will be a senior, ended the 2013 season as the No. 1 player on the depth chart at the position and should be a factor in the race. In 12 games last season, playing both outside and middle linebacker, Baggs had 30 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss, though he began the year as the starter at middle linebacker before being replaced by Claiborne, who had a strong freshman season.

Shaan Washington, who earned playing time as a true freshman on both special teams and as an outside linebacker, is another to watch. Washington appeared in 12 games and garnered three sacks and four tackles for loss while compiling 26 tackles.

Outside linebacker Tommy Sanders, a junior college transfer who was in his first season in Aggieland last year, started in place of a suspended Jenkins early in the season and received playing time as Jenkins’ backup at weakside linebacker and could serve in that role to Claiborne this year as well. Last year’s strongside linebackers, Baggs (6-foot-1, 230 pounds), Washington (6-3, 220) and Nate Askew (6-4, 235), were slightly heavier or larger in stature than Sanders (6-2, 220), though.

Could A.J. Hilliard be a candidate? He is also a little smaller (6-foot-2, 210), than the aforementioned names, but the transfer from TCU is an intriguing possibility. An athletic linebacker, he received plenty of practice time on the second team during spring football in 2013 but had to sit out the fall per NCAA transfer rules. Hilliard was a player that head coach Kevin Sumlin and his staff recruited when Sumlin was at Houston before Hilliard eventually chose TCU, and he’ll have a chance to compete somewhere in the linebacker corps.

When the summer arrives, the Aggies will also welcome two incoming outside linebacker recruits in ESPN 300 prospect Otaro Alaka and ESPN 300 prospect Josh Walker. So when preseason training camp begins in August, it stands to reason that those two will get a chance to compete for a spot as well. But when spring practice begins later this month, there should be no lack of competition at outside linebacker.

Weekend wrap: SEC 

August, 12, 2013
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Despite the college football season being just a few short weeks away, recruiting season is still in full swing. As always, there was lots of news in the SEC recruiting world, including a few commitments and a big unofficial visit that took place. and some upcoming decision dates. Now a few questions must be answered.

Here is a look at the weekend that was in SEC recruiting.

LEANDER, Texas -- Gilmer (Texas) High School prospect Josh Walker is used to playing both sides of the football, and that is no different in 7-on-7.

During the Texas state 7-on-7 championships, Walker spent time at his customary positions, linebacker and running back.

The ESPN 300 prospect, who is committed to Texas A&M, is set on proving that his size doesn't hurt his speed.


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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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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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McKINNEY, Texas -- The 2013 Nike Football Festival made a stop in north Texas, and 24 teams from the Dallas metroplex and east Texas showed their skills in 7-on-7 competition and individual skills challenges at Craig Ranch and the Michael Johnson Performance Center. Roughly 400 athletes were in attendance, some considered major FBS recruits.

Here is what we learned after the event:

2015 QB Murray wins ... twice

That sigh of relief you heard in McKinney? It’s still to be determined if it was from the Allen faithful or the Texas A&M faithful.

Saturday afternoon, Allen won the event's 7-on-7 tournament, and 2015 quarterback Kyler Murray looked phenomenal in competition. He made the same kind of plays in the air that allowed him to lead Allen to the Texas Class 5A Division-I state championship in December. In short, Murray was outstanding.

Shortly after, the 5-foot-11, 166-pound quarterback picked up the much-anticipated offer that made Aggies fans gush. Murray, the son of former Aggies quarterback Kevin Murray, finally got an offer from Texas A&M to join offers from Ohio State, Clemson, Texas Tech, Arkansas and Arizona State.

Life after Texas commit looks promising


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Video: Texas A&M LB commit Josh Walker

May, 30, 2013
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Max Olson drops in on Texas A&M commit Josh Walker (Gilmer, Texas / Gilmer) to see what the latest between him and the Aggies is, and what he thinks of other schools trying to recruit him.

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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LB commit Walker building on success 

February, 26, 2013
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The run was an unforgettable one for Josh Walker and the Gilmer (Texas) High School Buckeyes.

From one of Texas' toughest districts in Class 3A, Walker and his Gilmer teammates emerged to put on an impressive run to the Class 3A Division II championship game before falling to Navasota (Texas) High School in the state title match.


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Five TAMU targets to watch in 2014 

February, 8, 2013
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With Texas A&M's 2013 recruiting class in the books, we turn the page and take a glance at the 2014 class. On Thursday we glanced at Aggie commitments to watch. Today we look at targets that the Aggies are pursuing in the 2014 class and who fans should keep an eye on moving forward:


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Texas A&M: 2014 prospects to watch 

February, 7, 2013
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With Texas A&M's 2013 recruiting class in the books, we turn the page and take a glance at the 2014 class. The Aggies already have seven commitments in the class. Let's take a closer look at some of those players:


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Watch List LB Whitley talks junior days 

January, 30, 2013
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Texas A&M has already made significant progress at the linebacker position in its 2014 recruiting class.

With commitments in hand from ESPN Watch List prospect Hoza Scott and Gilmer (Texas) High School outside linebacker Josh Walker, the Aggies got a jump start at the position.

There's another target they have their eyes on and he was on campus for the Aggies' junior day on Sunday: Houston/North Shore inside linebacker Zac Whitley.


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Recruiting notebook: Busy weekend ahead 

January, 25, 2013
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Torrodney PrevotTom Hauck for ESPN.comTexas A&M has a chance to impress in-state DE Torrodney Prevot who has been committed to USC since July.
There will be no shortage of recruits on the Texas A&M campus this weekend.

From longtime commits who are finally taking their official visits, to one visitor from the class of 2013 who is committed elsewhere and several notable members of the 2014 class.

One of the notable names that will visit is expected in town today: 2014 offensive tackle Braden Smith.

The ESPN Watch List prospect from Olathe (Kan.) South High School will be touring the campus today in advance of Mondo Challenge college track and field meet taking place on campus. Smith's sister, Megan, is a thrower for TCU which is competing in the event.


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A&M recruits to watch at Texas state finals 

December, 21, 2012
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While most college football teams are practicing for bowl games and getting ready for a brief break for Christmas, high school football teams in Texas are preparing for the University Interscholastic League state championships.

The finals begin today at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas and over the next three days, there will be several players to watch who are either committed to Texas A&M or that the Aggies have interest in. Here's a glance at the games and players to watch for Aggies fans this weekend at JerryWorld:


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