Aggies hope defense doesn't rest

DALLAS -- Texas A&M lost its top talent and top tackler from its 2010 team, linebackers Von Miller and Michael Hodges.

Hodges, who had 115 tackles last season, won't return to College Station, and Miller is busy preparing for his first NFL season after being drafted second overall by the Denver Broncos.

Aggies coach Mike Sherman, however, says his defense will be even better in 2011 than the unit that ushered in the return of the Wrecking Crew in 2010.

"I do believe that the second year in this defense will make the biggest jump," Sherman said of coordinator Tim DeRuyter's 3-4 scheme, implemented before the 2010 season. "Our guys will have a lot more familiarity and knowledge of the defense and be able to fit in a little bit better."

Sherman isn't looking to replace a talent like Miller, though Damontre Moore will likely fill his role at the Joker position. Hodges' spot is still up for grabs, even more so after Kyle Mangan's struggles in the Cotton Bowl after Hodges left for good in the first quarter with a knee injury.

Last year's team had 15 spring practices and a month of fall camp to learn the new system, but the Wrecking Crew gave up just less than 22 points a game in 2010, down from a Big 12-worst 33.5 in 2009.

"From a scheme standpoint, they'll understand it better," Sherman said. "We have some guys I'm anxious to see out there that will come into their own."

One of those is linebacker Sean Porter, but if Texas A&M is going to return to the prior greatness that's been absent over the past decade, replacing players like Miller and Hodges will have to become commonplace.

"If you're a good program, you have to be able to handle the loss of a player like that," Sherman said. "Oklahoma and Texas have done that over the years. Hopefully, we can do that."