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Texas A&M Football

Resurgent play at linebacker key to A&M's dramatic improvement against the run

August 13, 2021
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Texas A&M is no longer Linebacker U. But at least it’s no longer Linebacker Useless.

Remember those days when LB could have stood for Lost Boys? When A&M was trying to fill those positions with converted receivers and true freshmen who were clearly in over the heads?

Remember when Missouri’s Russell Hansbrough — Russell “freaking” Hansbrough — was rushing for a career-high 199 yards against the Aggies in 2014?

Remember when LSU’s Darrius Guice gashed A&M for 285 rushing yards in 2016?

Of course you do.

Thankfully, those days are over. Last season no TEAM rushed for nearly as many yards against A&M as Guice by HIMSELF in ’16,

Perhaps the change in run defense is the single most important statistic to illustrate A&M’s improvement under coach Jimbo Fisher.

From 2013 to 2017, A&M ranked between 71st and 111th in the nation in run defense. In three seasons under Fisher and Defensive Coordinator Mike Elko, the Aggies have ranked third (2018), 30th (2019) and second (2020).

Linebacker play isn’t the only reason for that spike in productivity, but it certainly is a factor.

And it’s certainly a factor in the expectation that the Aggies figure to be stout against the run again.

Lia Musgrave, TexAgs
Despite the loss of productive team leader Buddy Johnson, Elko insists the current LB group is the most athletic he’s had.

“This is athletic as we’ve been at linebacker since we’ve been here,” Elko said last week. “Obviously, we’ve had some really talented linebackers. We have three (four) guys playing in the NFL right now that played linebacker for us since we’ve been here.

“It’s becoming a room with big shoes to fill. Athletically, they’re a really, really good group. We’re really looking forward to what they can do athletically sideline to sideline.”

The biggest shoes to fill are those of Buddy Johnson, who last season led the Aggies with 86 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss and 2 forced fumbles.

He was a fourth-round draft choice of the Pittsburgh Steelers. He was also A&M’s first drafted linebacker since Sean Porter in 2013.

The Aggies won’t wait that long between drafted linebackers. Aaron Hansford, who returned for a super senior season, played well in his first year as a starter. He should be better in his second year just as Johnson was and Tyrel Dodson was and Otara Alaka was.

Further, the Aggies have recruited so well they are both talented and rather deep at linebacker.

Defenses can get by with merely competent linebackers if they’re behind a dominant defensive line. A&M’s defensive line fits the dominant description, but the Aggies linebackers figure to be much more than competent.

Junior Andre White demonstrated exceptional instincts as Johnson’s backup. Freshman Edgerrin Cooper has great speed. Sophomore Antonio Doyle is big and intimidating.

“You’ve got Andre White trying to step into a role,” Elko said. “You’ve got Edgerrin Cooper stepping into a role. And some of the young guys — Tarian Lee, Antonio Doyle and Chris Russell.

“I think by and large every year you’ve got certain things that you lose. It’s kind of a collective group (that) has to step up and replace them. That’s what we’re going to try to do with Buddy’s leadership.”

“It’s becoming a room with big shoes to fill. Athletically, they’re a really, really good group. We’re really looking forward to what they can do athletically sideline to sideline.”
- A&M Defensive Coordinator
Mike Elko

The leadership issue could be cause for concern. A&M has more athletic linebackers, but Johnson was an emotional, vocal and physical leader.

Of course, Johnson wasn’t a leader until he became one. Hansford could become that leader. In fact, Fisher says he already is.

“He will be and he has been (a leader) by his performance,” Fisher said. “You don’t have to be vocal. Everybody thinks leadership is vocal. Leadership comes in many ways. It’s how you affect your teammates. Is it vocal? Is it off the field? Is it on the field? Is it by example?

“You change behavior. You want people to play like you. You want people to play to your standards. So, leadership comes in a lot of different ways.

“Aaron has become more vocal, but his is more, I think, by example and the type of athlete he is and the way he plays.”

Hansford is just one of several reasons to expect A&M’s linebacker play to remain effective in 2021.

Discussion from...

Resurgent play at linebacker key to A&M's dramatic improvement against the run

6,268 Views | 3 Replies | Last: 10 mo ago by TexanJeff
homertexag95
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AG
You need to put an explicit content warning on this article if you are going to bring up 2016 LSU, Olin.
Playboy
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OB, you are worth every penny Texags is paying you. And you're such a joy to listen to on the radio. Always with a well thought out opinion and an objective answer that you somehow seemingly still make subjective to our more fragile or territorial fans. Really glad to have you as a representative of A&M sports.

-not Irma
TexanJeff
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He was a fourth-round draft choice of the Pittsburgh Steelers. He was also A&M's first drafted linebacker since Sean Porter in 2013.

This is a ridiculous statistic
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