Content to let his base defense show whatever improvement was made during the spring, new Texas A&M defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter quickly became aggravated by the Aggies' spring scrimmage.
Both starting quarterback Jerrod Johnson and backup Ryan Tannehill engineered touchdown drives to begin the scrimmage, causing DeRuyter to change his approach. He quickly began bringing extra pressure and the blitzes slowed the offensive spurts.
"I kind of threw out my initial thoughts and said, 'All right, we gotta dictate a little more tempo,"' DeRuyter said.
This is the key issue A&M faces as it attempts to build on a postseason berth in the Independence Bowl, which resulted in a loss against Georgia and left the Aggies 6-7 overall last season after finishing 3-5 in the Big 12.
With an offense good enough to motor against any team in the league, A&M must improve defensively if it is compete more favorably in the Big 12 under third-year coach Mike Sherman. That unit allowed 426.3 yards on average a year ago to rank 105th nationally, and often negated an offense that averaged 465.8 yards and ranked fifth.
Although plans in the spring game also called for the defense not to tackle as aggressively in the second half, too many mishits in the first half prompted Sherman and DeRuyter to alter original plans again.
Thus, the results from the spring game weren't overly encouraging for the defense. Fortunately, however, much time remains to work on fundamentals and also get the Aggies more comfortable in the 3-4 scheme DeRuyter introduced, a change from the 4-3 alignment previously run.
As for the offense, Johnson is the best returnee in the Big 12 at quarterback and could generate even more explosive numbers. Each of his complimentary skill players return, including Cyrus Gray and Christine Michael at running back, as well as a receiving corps led by Jeff Fuller. Their familiarity was displayed in the spring game.
"I thought we had a great tempo on offense," Sherman said. "We snapped the ball in about 15 to 16 seconds. We put a lot of pressure on the defense. It was faster than even we had practiced."NOTES, QUOTES
--With an elbow injury slowing RB Christine Michael, another returnee, RB Cyrus Gray, received more reps during spring practices. Gray responded with 65 yards and two touchdowns on 10 carries in the spring game. According to Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman, Gray showed he was a more physical runner and "has taken his game to another level."
--Sherman devised his own scoring system for the spring game and docked the defense 10 points late in the game for allowing the third explosive play it permitted on the day. LB Michael Hodges, a senior, vowed to use Sherman's deduction as a motivating tool while leading the defense in offseason conditioning.
--The A&M staff used the spring game as an evaluation mechanism before completing spring drills entirely. The Aggies concluded with two additional practices following their public scrimmage, which drew more fans than either of the two previous spring games conducted under Sherman.
OT Luke Joeckel -- The freshman was pushed during spring practice while lining up opposite DE Von Miller, the nation's sack leader a year ago. Miller had a sack in the spring game, but for the most part, Joeckel was impressive, especially for a freshman who came in at mid-term.
NG Lucas Patterson -- The senior figures to be a pivotal player for the Aggies, especially if he can generate the kind of pressure he exerted in the spring game. He often forced quarterbacks to scramble by getting up the middle.
LB Garrick Williams -- Drew praise from Sherman for both his work in the spring game, as well as spring practices overall. Looks capable of covering considerable ground and should handle coverage responsibilities in the Aggies' new 3-4 scheme.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We've got to emphasize (tackling) more and put our guys in game situations. We probably haven't done that enough. ... (Sometimes) those kind of things can only be taught in the arena. You can drill and drill, but it's not the same thing." -- Texas A&M defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter.STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
2010 OUTLOOK: Progress within the rugged South Division of the Big 12 can be tricky. Sometimes teams look ahead thinking they're on the right path, only to take a step back. That's what Texas A&M hopes to avoid after going 3-5 in the league last season with some crazy outcomes, including a blowout win at Texas Tech and a humbling defeat at Kansas State. The eventual result was an Independence Bowl bid, but a loss to Georgia left the Aggies 6-7, the fifth time in eight years they failed to exceed .500. A potent offense led by QB Jerrod Johnson returns virtually intact. The Aggies also will be experienced on defense, though the youth movement third-year Mike Sherman engaged in still leaves much room for improvement on that side of the ball.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Johnson improved dramatically last season. Previously jumpy and prone to mistakes, he demonstrated much more poise and is positioned to enjoy a big season as a senior. Burly at 6-5, Johnson is a threat to take on tacklers as a runner, though his pocket presence was much better a year ago. Protection can still improve and should behind an experienced line as long as freshman OT Luke Joeckel develops. Productive receivers return. Jeff Fuller, Uzoma Nwachukwu and Ryan Tannehill all could enjoy big seasons. Two running backs, Christine Michael and Cyrus Gray will again alternate in the backfield depending on production. After ranking fifth nationally as the most productive offense in the Big 12 a year ago, the Aggies should be even better.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Improvement on this side of the ball will dictate whether A&M can blossom into a contender in the South. The Aggies are learning a new system under coordinator Tim DeRuyter, who was hired out of Air Force and implemented a 3-4 scheme. The potential exists to put more pressure on the quarterback, though the Aggies already feature LB Von Miller, who led the nation with 17 sacks last season from a hybrid position. S Trent Hunter is one of the best in the Big 12, but more A&M defenders need to make plays before they get into the back end. Improvement from LB Garrick Williams is needed for the 3-4 scheme to work, plus NG Lucas Patterson must exert the same kind of pressure he showed flushing quarterbacks in the spring game.
SCOUTING THE SPECIAL TEAMS: KR Cyrus Gray returned a kick for a touchdown last season, though A&M struggled for the most part on returns. PK Randy Bullock is serviceable, but not spectacular. The punting game must improve in all areas, both netting yards off boots and in the return game. Special teams remain a work in progress.
--QB Jerrod Johnson underwent surgery on his throwing shoulder during the offseason and was limited during the spring, though he did throw nine passes in the spring game. Johnson estimated his recovery at 80 percent.
--QB/WR Ryan Tannehill missed several spring practices because of class conflicts, but also participated in the spring game. He continues to back up Johnson, but figures to see time at receiver.
--RB Christine Michael missed some of spring practice with an elbow injury, allowing more reps for RB Cyrus Gray, who alternated with Michael last season.
--LB Von Miller missed the practice prior to the spring game with a concussion.
Previous Report: 04/11/2010