If he takes his work home with him, A&M defensive coordinator Mark Snyder must not get much sleep.
Snyder was refreshingly candid — if not pessimistic — about what concerns him most about his 2013 defense.
“Up front, linebacker, depth in the secondary,” he said. “Aside from that, not much.”
He can take some solace, however, in the fact that he was in this same predicament just one year ago.
“[The concerns are] exactly the same,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of unknowns on defense.”
What he’s missing this year though is proven playmakers and leadership.
Sean Porter, Damontre Moore, Jonathan Stewart, Spencer Nealy, Steven Terrell — the core of an underrated 2012 defense — are all gone.
That unit ranked near the middle-of-the-pack in most Southeastern Conference statistics. However, they made plays in big spots — like three forced turnovers in an upset of Alabama.
Replacing that group is a bevy of inexperienced players and questions marks.
On the Aggies’ current starting defense, A&M has only three players in their front seven with any semblance of meaningful snaps — lineman Kirby Ennis, end Julien Obioha and linebacker Steven Jenkins. One of those players, Ennis, is already suspended for the opener against Rice because of an offseason arrest.
Junior-college transfer Tommy Sanders will be counted on to replace Porter. Donnie Baggs, a utility player during his first two seasons, will replace Stewart in the middle. Alonzo Williams, who started against Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl, will play the defensive tackle. And Gavin Stansbury will play strongside end for the first time in his career.
Snyder said that, although those players haven’t done much at the college level, they’ve been in the meeting rooms and on the practice field under his coaching staff’s guidance, learning the intricacies of his attacking 4-3 system.
“We do have 11 or 12 guys who played in the system a bit,” he said, “which is a far cry from what we had last year.”
One positive is that Snyder and head coach Kevin Sumlin are both excited about the prospects they recruited to campus. Though no freshmen may start the opener, the Aggies’ defensive depth will be heavily dependant on newcomers.
“These kids are coming in with talent and they’re eager and hungry to play,” Snyder said.
Sumlin said that freshman defensive linemen Daeshon Hall, Justin Manning, Hardreck Walker and Isaiah Golden could all see playing time during the 2013 season.
And in the secondary, freshmen such as Tavares Garner, Victor Davis and Noel Ellis could be counted on to spot the starting four or move into even larger roles if Floyd Raven and Deshazor Everett are suspendedfor any games after offseason arrests.
Snyder said that even though these newcomers have plenty of ability, they’ve never performed on this stage — unlike the defense he inherited last season.
“I know they were really good high school players,” he said, “but it doesn’t always translate to college players.”
Senior cornerback Toney Hurd Jr., who has assumed a leadership role on defense, said that the team doesn’t view itself as and underdog anymore. Rather, he said they’re “top dogs.”
Still, the defense is in the same position it was just a year ago: having to prove itself.
“We’re ready to show the world we can fight,” Hurd said.