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Texas A&M’s defense loses its big playmakers but should still be solid

If you weren’t named LSU or Alabama, you probably struggled against the Texas A&M defense.

NCAA Football: Texas A&M at Louisiana State Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

We joke about the Big 12 thing, because for its first couple of years in the SEC, Texas A&M really did play like a Big 12 team. These were the Johnny Manziel years, when the Aggies featured a high-flying offense paired with a defense that could fairly be called “sketchy.” Under Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M briefly had a Myles Garrett-fueled resurgence on the defensive side of the ball, but it’s mostly been bad defenses.

That wasn’t true in 2019. In 2019, if you were LSU (48 points, 553 yards of offense) or Alabama (47 points, 448 yards of offense), you could score on Texas A&M. Aside from that, the Aggies gave up 196 points, for an average of 17.8 ppg. Mississippi State’s Kylin Hill randomly ran wild on the Aggie defense, but even Clemson couldn’t muster more than 24 points against A&M.

The bad news for A&M is that their two biggest sources of havoc last year are gone. Justin Madubuike is now with the Baltimore Ravens, while Anthony Hines III has opted out of the season due to COVID-19 concerns. The former was expected, but the latter is a big blow; Hines had 10.5 tackles for loss in 2019.

The good news for A&M — and bad news for Vanderbilt — is that basically everyone else is back. Massive defensive tackles Jayden Peevy (6’6”/295) and Bobby Brown III (6’4”/325) will be big tests for a retooled Vanderbilt offensive line, and end Tyree Johnson had 6.5 tackles for loss and four sacks in 2019. Fifth-year senior Micheal Clemons is the starter at the other end replacing Madubuike.

Technically, A&M uses a 4-2-5 defense (at least, if their depth chart is any indication), but even without Hines in the second level they return last year’s leading tackler in Buddy Johnson. Alongside Johnson is senior Aaron Hansford, who apparently was a wide receiver at one point.

The secondary is inexperienced. Cornerback Myles Jones had two interceptions last season, and starting safeties Leon O’Neal Jr. and Demani Richardson each had one, but this unit will also feature a couple of new starters. Then again, “team with a new quarterback” probably isn’t a bad way to break in new starters.