- Sam Khan Jr., ESPN Staff Writer
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This week on the SEC blog we're taking a look at the most important position group for each SEC team heading into 2015. Today we take a look at the Texas A&M Aggies.
Most important position: Linebacker
Why: It's no secret that defense has been the Achilles' heel for Texas A&M the last two seasons. It's the main reason the Aggies made such a major change on that side of the ball, hiring defensive coordinator John Chavis away from LSU.
One consistent source of defensive struggles last season was linebacker play. When it came to plugging gaps and stopping the run, the Aggies couldn't get it done well enough or consistently enough and wound up last in the SEC in rushing defense for a second consecutive season.
This spring, Chavis -- who also will serve as the linebackers coach -- wasn't able to get a fair assessment of his current crop because of injuries. Otaro Alaka, Shaan Washington, Josh Walker and A.J. Hilliard -- four of the six linebackers listed on Texas A&M's preseason 2015 two-deep depth chart -- each missed some or all of spring recovering from injuries. Junior college transfer Claude George and 2015 high school recruit and early enrollee Richard Moore were the only two who are on the current depth chart able to participate in spring football.
On the bright side, Alaka made big strides late in 2014 after being moved into the starting lineup and earned defensive most valuable player honors in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl. Alaka, a sophomore, looks like a potential star.
Josh Walker, who, like Alaka, also earned playing time late last season as a true freshman, showed flashes of potential also while lining up at middle linebacker. Washington, when healthy, proved to be a solid contributor. The staff had high hopes for Hilliard last season but his year was cut short in the season opener against South Carolina when he suffered a season-ending foot injury.
If the Aggies are to take a big step forward on defense, the linebackers have to be both healthy and consistently effective. With teams in the SEC West that run the ball effectively, which is almost the entire division, as well as downhill run teams like Alabama, Arkansas and LSU -- there's nowhere to hide. Chavis' tutoring, with two decades of experience as an SEC defensive coordinator, will help, but if the Aggies are to shed their reputation as a poor defense, linebacker play will go a long way in determining whether they achieve that goal.
2dGreg Ostendorf and Alex Scarborough
4dSam Khan Jr.
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