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