COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Von Miller was the Big 12 sack champ for two consecutive seasons and the leader of a Texas A&M defense that made big strides in 2010.
In 2010, Miller took over the most crucial position for the Aggies' defense: the joker, which is a hybrid linebacker and defensive end position that serves as the linchpin of Tim DeRuyter's 3-4 scheme.
The joker position is now vacant with Miller headed to make millions in the NFL, and if Texas A&M is going to make a serious run at its first Big 12 title since 1998, someone will have to fill the void.
"To be able to replicate what he did would be very, very difficult. There’s not a whole lot of those people out there in high school right now. He was an exceptional athlete," Aggies coach Mike Sherman said. "We think we have recruited some really good guys who could accomplish that, maybe not at Von’s level, but we hope pretty close."
First on that list is 6-foot-4, 248-pound freshman Damontre Moore. Last year, Miller was slowed by an ankle injury early in the season.
Sherman may not be sure anyone can replicate what Miller did over the course of a season, but Moore outperformed Miller early on, albeit in nonconference games against Stephen F. Austin, Louisiana Tech and Florida International.
Miller put together a season worthy of Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year consideration but was held without a sack until the fifth game, a loss to Arkansas.
While spelling the hobbled Miller, Moore racked up three sacks, four tackles for loss and 16 tackles in the season's first three games, including a seven-tackle, two-sack performance in a blowout win over Louisiana Tech.
"He has tremendous length. He played pretty well as a freshman, he had his ups and downs like everybody else but had a good start to a freshman year," Sherman said. "His whole thing now is to learn the finer elements of his position."
Moore came to Texas A&M as an athlete who had spent a lot more time on the basketball court than on the football field, and as a result, he had plenty of work to do.
"When we got him, he was on the raw side," Sherman said.
Sean Porter has worked some at the joker position, too, but he's been sidelined during spring practice with a foot injury and missed several practices. For now, the slot belongs to Moore.
"I wouldn’t say anything’s locked in as a freshman," Sherman said. "We’re still evaluating to see where he’s at. It’s a real important position, and for him to hold on to that spot, he has to do some extraordinary things in practice."
Last season, that was a bit of a problem. As a freshman, flashes of expected immaturity surfaced.
When Saturday meant starting, problems in practice were few. But late in the season, when Miller returned to form, Moore's practice performance suffered, perhaps influenced by the lack of anticipation for a starting role.
"When he didn’t get the reps in practice, he didn’t play quite as well as he had been playing," Sherman said. "He played better as a starter than he did as a backup."
That inconsistency in practice and on the field is expected from a freshman, but eliminating that, along with developing a better understanding of the responsibilities that come with being DeRuyter's Joker, are necessary for Moore to become the possible star.
"He’s a work in progress, but we’ll continue to work with him," Sherman said.