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Aggies rebuild front seven

Published: Thursday, February 7, 2013

Updated: Thursday, February 7, 2013 00:02

Front seven photo

Chase Krumholz -- The Battalion

Linebacker Steven Jenkins make a tackle.


Physical play from an experienced — if underwhelming on paper — linebacker corps and defensive line opened more than a few doors for the success of the 2012 A&M football team. But graduation, the NFL draft, health and discipline issues have sapped the core of the front seven. The talent and size of the recruiting class of 2013 will look to shoulder high expectations for a team poised to make noise in the SEC West.

All-American defensive end Damontre Moore will forego his senior season for the NFL Draft, tackle Spencer Nealy and linebackers Sean Porter and Jonathan Stewart will graduate, sophomore-to-be Julien Obioha struggles with lingering injury concerns and senior-to-be Kirby Ennis’ status with the team remains uncertain after legal issues.

In an interview during Fox Sports Southwest’s coverage of National Signing Day, A&M defensive line coach Terry Price said he was proud of the 2012 success of the unit.

“We didn’t know what to expect, but the kids stepped up and it ended up being a good year for us up front,” Price said.

Head coach Kevin Sumlin said he has high hopes that fresh faces can fill the void that has been left by graduating athletes.

“We’re in a very physical, line-of-scrimmage league and we lost two of our starting linebackers,” Sumlin said. “The ones we’ve brought in have a chance to get going immediately. Addressing the front seven was a big deal with the guys we’ve lost.”

Starter Steven Jenkins is returning at linebacker and Donnie Baggs has a head start for a starting position. Midterm enrollee and junior Tommy Sanders has the experience and talent Sumlin desires and will have the advantage of a spring under Sumlin and strength coach Larry Jackson. Midterm enrollees freshman Reggie Chevis and sophomore A.J. Hilliard and linebackers Jordan Mastrogiovanni and Darian Claiborne will get their chances, though.

“We’ve got some young guys that are going to need to step up,” Linebacker coach Mark Hagen said. “Some of the young guys are going to have to get their feet wet and get involved early.”

On the defensive line, the possible absence of Obioha and Ennis could shake things up. Ennis was arrested after he reportedly flashed a firearm at another driver and has been suspended from the team, while Obioha suffered an injury toward the end of last season and has yet to be cleared for return.

Price said he is hopeful for Obioha’s return in the fall season.

“According to doctors, they all seem to think he’s making good progress,” Price said. “We’re hoping to get him back.”

In the interim, a six-strong group of incoming tackles and ends could make an immediate impact, even in a league known for size that must be developed over time.

Highly touted defensive tackle Justin Manning is the top defensive recruit in the class. Sumlin hopes Manning can develop into a premier run-stopper and may not waste any time getting him on the field. Tackles Isaiah Golden and Hardreck Walker also have the size and skillsets to work their way into the rotation.

Eleventh-hour commit Daeshon Hall is — like Manning, Golden and Walker — a consensus four-star and will line up at defensive end for A&M.

With a reigning Heisman Trophy winner in the fold, many expect A&M to build from its 2012 success on the field. Manziel aside, the front seven will need to maintain its level of play in order for the Aggies to reach the goals they set. The recruiting class of 2013 looks to do just that.

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