Texas A&M's 8-5 season had its fair share of ups and downs. That also means there were some areas that shined and some that need work. We look at one area in particular that needs improvement heading into 2015:
Position to improve: Linebacker.
Why it was a problem: Depth was perhaps the biggest reason for the struggles because the Aggies ran thin on linebackers with actual SEC playing experience. One preseason dismissal (Darian Claiborne) and two early-season injuries (to A.J. Hilliard, for the season, and Shaan Washington, for the first three games) cut into the team's depth. During the first half of the 2014 campaign, the Aggies found themselves being ineffective at the position as well. After a 59-0 loss to Alabama, Texas A&M injected some youth into the lineup, giving starts to true freshmen Otaro Alaka and Josh Walker, both of whom looked promising in their time as starters. Overall, the Aggies still need all the experience they can get at the position. Texas A&M was last in the SEC in rushing defense in 2014 and linebacker play is a part of that.
How it can be fixed: Recruiting is one quick way to fix it and fortunately for the Aggies, they already have two linebacker recruits on campus. Junior college linebacker Claude George, the nation's fourth-ranked junior college outside linebacker, enrolled for the spring semester as did Cedar Hill (Texas) High School outside linebacker Richard Moore. Getting Hilliard back healthy next season will be huge: the TCU transfer was vying for a starting spot and has the ability to play all three positions in the Aggies' 4-3 alignment. Washington, who had a solid season, also returns. The Aggies have three more linebacker recruits in their 2015 class: three-star prospects Landis Durham, Riley Garner and Dwaine Thomas.
Early 2015 outlook: With a healthy returning quartet of Alaka, Hilliard, Walker and Washington, the Aggies have a group of players who have seen the field and are talented. Alaka's late season stretch was solid, including a good performance in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl where he won defensive MVP. Jordan Mastrogiovanni, who started the season at middle linebacker but struggled, also provides some experience and depth. Sprinkle in the early-enrollees, George and Moore, and the Aggies have a group of talented playmakers. The biggest asset here though comes from the sideline, not on the field: new Texas A&M defensive coordinator John Chavis. In his more than two decades as an SEC defensive coordinator, Chavis oversaw the linebackers at Tennessee and LSU. It stands to reason his presence can help upgrade linebacker play in Aggieland.