de­fen­sive makeover

sher­man hopes hir­ing al­most en­tirely new de­fen­sive staff, new 3-4 scheme will put teeth in his young squad

Austin American-Statesman - - SPORTS - KIRK BOHLS

‘The de­fense took more hits than I thought it de­served last year.’

texas a&M coach Mike sher­Man

Texas A&M has taken a step back­ward. And that’s a good thing. In the­ory, any­way. When head foot­ball coach Mike Sher­man sifted through can­di­dates to fill his de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor va­cancy dur­ing this off­sea­son, he came up with a proven win­ner who coached lineback­ers, showed solid re­sults, and was a firm coach­ing ad­vo­cate of the 3-4 align­ment.

Just as Sher­man did three years ago.

Back then, he plucked Reg­gie Her­ring off the Arkansas staff to im­ple­ment the 3-4, heavy-on-line- backer scheme in Col­lege Sta­tion. But Her­ring never even made it to the spring game, in­stead tak­ing a job with the Dal­las Cow­boys shortly af­ter sign­ing day and leav­ing A&M in the lurch.

Sher­man, on the fly, ended up coax­ing out of re­tire­ment Joe Kines, a vet­eran’s vet­eran who had di­rected Alabama’s de­fenses be­fore tak­ing a fundrais­ing po­si­tion at the school.

Af­ter two largely for­get­table sea­sons — in which the Ag­gies ranked 114th and then 105th in both to­tal and scor­ing de­fense — Kines re­tired again. Sher­man has since re­made prac­ti­cally his

Con­tin­ued from C en­tire de­fen­sive staff, one that’s headed by re­spected Air Force co­or­di­na­tor Tim DeRuyter, who, like Her­ring, played and coached the linebacker po­si­tion and im­proved nearly ev­ery de­fense he’s over­seen from Ohio to Ne­vada to Air Force.

“We were go­ing to be a 3-4 de­fense then,” Sher­man said at the an­nual Cap­i­tal City A&M Club bar­be­cue at the Travis County Expo Cen­ter on Mon­day night. “I hired Joe Kines, God bless him, and he was a 4-3 guy, so we went with that.”

And the Ag­gies went 4-8 and 6-7 as a re­sult. Now if the four new de­fen­sive coach­ing hires — in­clud­ing for­mer A&M tackle ma­chine Dat Nguyen — don’t take, Sher­man may go as well.

If this isn’t a makeor-break sea­son — and it al­most as­suredly won’t be, al­though show­ing signs of im­prove­ment are es­sen­tial — then 2011 eas­ily could be. Sher­man has at his dis­posal the pieces that could make A&M the most for­mi­da­ble of­fense in the Big 12 with ar­guably the best combo quar­ter­back in terms of tal­ent and ex­pe­ri­ence, prob­a­bly the two most gifted run­ning backs in the league and a ter­rific sta­ble of wide re­ceivers. A&M will score on ev­ery­body, but few teams win big by re­ly­ing on 41-38 vic­to­ries.

On de­fense, A&M’s got Von Miller and ros­ter-fillers. At least, on paper. Re­al­is­ti­cally, the de­fense is prob­a­bly a year away — or longer — from be­com­ing more than a wretched crew. Sher­man and his re­cruiters have gone about it in the right way. Of the 23 prospects he signed in Fe­bru­ary, nine posted 40 times of 4.5 sec­onds or faster. Four­teen signees the year be­fore could move that well.

Speed has been pri­or­ity No. 1. Mus­cle’s No. 2.

Ev­ery­one wants to know if the Ag­gies have im­proved de­fen­sively af­ter sur­ren­der­ing 426 yards a game and al­low­ing de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor, has a knack for mak­ing im­prove­ments. Dat Nguyen, a for­mer All-Amer­i­can and the most pro­lific tack­ler in Texas A&M his­tory, is one of the Ag­gies’ four new de­fen­sive coach­ing hires. Nguyen, on the Dal­las Cow­boys staff the past three sea­sons, is coach­ing the Ag­gies’ in­side lineback­ers. 33.5 points each Satur­day.

“I do, too,” Sher­man said. “Our spe­cial teams have to get bet­ter as well. Our last game against Ge­or­gia, our de­fense played well for three quar­ters, but our of­fense was in­ept for most of the game, and it caught up with our de­fense. The de­fense took more hits than I thought it de­served last year.”

Against Texas, for in­stance, the Ag­gies missed a field goal and gave up a kick­off re­turn for a touch­down in the fourth quar­ter. The spe­cial teams were an eye­sore in the In­de­pen­dence Bowl loss to Ge­or­gia.

If A&M fig­ures to up­grade and win at least eight games — a dis­tinct pos­si­bil­ity, given its soft non-con­fer­ence sched­ule out­side Arkansas and home games against Texas Tech, Ok­la­homa and Ne­braska — it will have to make the biggest strides on de­fense.

DeRuyter brings a cere­bral but ag­gres­sive ap­proach to de­fense and will com­pen­sate for a lack of proven play­mak­ers with mul­ti­ple dis­guises and last-sec­ond shifts and a 3-4 scheme that will work only so long as promis­ing lineback­ers like Sean Porter and Gar­rick Wil­liams emerge and cor­ner­backs Ter­rence Fred­er­ick and Dustin Har­ris de­velop rapidly in the pass-happy Big 12.

DeRuyter’s Fal­cons led the Moun­tain West Con­fer­ence in pass de­fense last sea­son, but they didn’t go up against any Colt McCoys or Sam Brad­fords in that league.

Not all of the Ag­gie blame needs to go to Kines’ de­fen­sive units, be­cause there was a lot to go around. Who could fig­ure a team that blud­geoned Texas Tech on the road and had Texas on the fourthquar­ter ropes also was hu­mil­i­ated by only de­cent teams Kansas State and Ok­la­homa?

Sher­man’s look­ing for more phys­i­cal ma­tu­rity and ex­pects a nat­u­ral evo­lu­tion there a year af­ter play­ing 18 fresh­men, in­clud­ing nine who started at times.

“I don’t an­tic­i­pate do­ing that again,” he said. “We tack­led all right, but there was not enough oomph. We’d make the tackle, but give up some ground.”

He knows about giv­ing up ground. A&M has won just two of 10 games ver­sus the Big 12 South as it tries to el­bow Texas Tech, Ok­la­homa State and Bay­lor and move up the con­fer­ence lad­der.

Who knows, if OU and Texas fall off de­fen­sively, could A&M dream of be­com­ing a Big 12 con­tender this sea­son?

“That’s hard for me to say,” said the ever-cau­tious Sher­man. “Any­thing is pos­si­ble. Our of­fen­sive line has to come to­gether. I want to see us be in games at the end against those teams we’ve got to beat and fin­ish ’em off. Just be­cause you make changes, peo­ple think things will be bet­ter. That’s not nec­es­sar­ily the case.”

Jack Dempsey

Linebacker Von Miller, sack­ing Colorado quar­ter­back Tyler Hansen last sea­son, is the heart and soul of a Texas A&M de­fense that re­cently has borne lit­tle re­sem­blance to the feared ‘Wreck­ing Crew’ of years gone by.

Stu­art Vil­lanueva

Tim DeRuyter,

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