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August 7, 2009

Storylines: Improving a pass rush with speed

With August training camp opening in less than a week at Texas A&M, the Aggies have plenty of questions with just little over a month until opening night at Kyle Field. Over the next week, we at AggieYell.com will take a peek at the top storylines in Aggieland facing the team in camp.

A&M's pass rush in 2008 could be classified as dismal as the Aggies only mustered 16 sacks. Gone are seniors Michael Bennett and Cyril Obiozor at ends and junior Kellen Heard left the team while junior Lucas Patterson is making the move to the offensive line.

So the Aggies have a much different look up front in 2009 than they did in 2008, but no change is bigger than the creation of the jack position - a hybrid defensive end/linebacker. Manning the position is junior Von Miller who in spring drills seemed like he finally found a position that fits him.

Miller always has had the speed and talent to get on the field as he played as a defensive end his first season in Aggieland. But that was for a different coaching staff with a different scheme where his job wasn't solely to rush the passer off the edge. Instead, the defensive ends were taught to see the play before rushing, giving up crucial seconds in an attempt to get to the quarterback.

Under new head coach Mike Sherman and defensive coordinator Joe Kines in 2008, Miller was moved to outside linebacker where he started at the beginning of the season. But as the year went on, Miller's playing time dwindled and was eventually replaced in the starting lineup.

But then Sherman and Kines created the jack, which is a position that allows A&M to line up in either a 4-3 or 3-4 formation and the jack is able to roam around the field - basically rushing from anywhere. The position seemed tailor-made for Miller in the spring as no A&M offensive linemen could touch him, let alone stop him. For the first time in his career at A&M, Miller is in a position where he doesn't have to do much other than use his speed and strength and get to the quarterback.

That in itself should help the Aggies gain a better pass rush, but don't let the spring fool you quite yet. Miller was going up against a makeshift offensive line with presumed starting tackles Patterson and Lee Grimes out after offseason surgeries. In August, Miller will be facing them and also double-teams, cut blocks and the like in order to prepare him for what is surely going to come his way in the Big 12. Learning how to handle that this August will certainly say a lot about his potential for the season.

Miller's mere presence, however, should open up the rest of what seems to be a much faster line. And that is another change the coaching staff made in the offseason. Sherman and Kines want speed on the field, and speed they have in defensive end Matt Moss. He isn't as quick off the line as Miller, but with Miller gaining much of the attention Moss should be free to work one-on-one on the other side.

And then you add Tony Jerod-Eddie in the middle. After starting eight games in 2008, Jerod-Eddie has slimmed down in weight but has added strength and is another double-team candidate.

Then, beyond the defensive line, is am extremely young and inexperienced group of linebackers that have one thing in common - speed. And Kines likes to throw different blitz packages at teams. Combine that with Miller flying at the quarterback from different spots on the field and the Aggies could be in business with a much improved pass rush.

And that is the key to an improved Aggie defense in 2009.

Storylines entering August training camp:

Finding a WR next to Fuller
Finding the right leaders
Youth movement on defense
What to do with Tannehill

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