SEC: Dylan Sumner-Gardner

COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Texas A&M’s defense struggled across the board in 2013, and the Aggies can use all the help, and depth, they can get in order to improve in 2014.

That is probably more true at safety than any other position. It’s a spot the Aggies have found challenges when trying to maintain or add talent and depth, with the latest hurdle coming recently as spring practice opened.

The loss of safety Kameron Miles, whom the Aggies announced officially on Thursday had been dismissed from the team for unspecified reasons, isn’t cause for panic because as head coach Kevin Sumlin pointed out, Miles didn’t see the field at all last season.

[+] EnlargeClay Honeycutt
Juan DeLeon/Icon SMIClay Honeycutt is one of the returning players Texas A&M hopes will fill the open safety positions.
But it is cause for concern at position of need for the Aggies. This is one of the biggest challenges facing new Texas A&M secondary coach Terry Joseph this spring.

Safety is certainly a position where they need to see on-field improvement, both from the 2013 contributors who are returning this season (Clay Honeycutt, Howard Matthews and Floyd Raven) and the new bodies that could step in.

So while Miles -- an ESPN 300 recruit who signed in the 2013 class -- didn’t play (he redshirted after missing all of preseason training camp recovering from a knee injury), he certainly was a candidate to do so this season. Losing him is impactful, especially considering his potential and the rough end to Class of 2014 recruiting at the position.

Texas A&M had an ESPN 300 safety committed to them for months in Dylan Sumner-Gardner, but he switched his commitment to Boise State in early January after former secondary coach Marcel Yates left his post in Aggieland to accept the defensive coordinator position at Boise State. Even before Sumner-Gardner’s switch, the Aggies were still trying to add another safety to the 2014 recruiting class.

The loss made finding a safety even more urgent in the class. The Aggies long recruited ESPN 300 safety Steven Parker II (who signed with Oklahoma) and made a late run at ESPN 300 safety Mattrell McGraw (who signed with Oregon), not to mention other ESPN 300 prospects whom they recruited earlier in the process but decided on other programs.

The Aggies were able to land a safety late in the 2014 recruiting cycle when three-star athlete Donovan Wilson (Shreveport, La./Woodlawn) committed four days before national signing day and inked a letter of intent with the Aggies. He will enroll at Texas A&M for the fall semester, but whether he will be able to have an impact this fall is unknown until he arrives on campus.

Texas A&M has commitments from two elite safeties in the 2015 recruiting class in ESPN Junior 300 prospects Justin Dunning and Larry Pryor Jr., but that has no bearing on this fall.

What is known is that the Aggies need the three who played the most last season to improve and for others to contribute. One name Sumlin mentioned on Thursday was junior safety Devonta Burns, a 6-foot, 214-pounder who contributed mostly on special teams last season.

“Devonta Burns is having a really, really good camp,” Sumlin said. “He’s been around here a long time and really was a good special teams player for us from game three, four, five, on. It’s about time for him to start showing up and he has. You’ve got three guys back there [Honeycutt, Matthews and Raven] who have played a lot, not always well, but have played and are experienced and need to step up. I think Devonta is right in the mix with the other three guys.”

The Aggies also have the services of 6-3, 213-pound sophomore Jonathan Wiggins, a 2013 signee who saw most of his time on special teams last season. Beyond him, the options consist of mostly walk-ons such as Sam Moeller (last year’s 12th Man) or perhaps even someone like Shane Huhn, a transfer from UTEP who sat out last season per NCAA transfer rules.

Another potential option is using the secondary’s best player, senior cornerback Deshazor Everett, at safety. Everett has flip-flopped between cornerback and safety before, including on certain occasions last season when the Aggies needed the help. However, it appears that Everett is working exclusively at cornerback, and Sumlin said he doesn’t anticipate that changing, at least “Not right now.”

Everett said last week that he has seen improvement from the safety returnees, especially Matthews.

“He’s a different player now,” Everett said of Matthews. “He’s not lagging around or doing it his way. He’s playing hard, he’s going hard every play, he’s being vocal. That’s what we need at the back end from the safeties, because they have to communicate to everybody on the defense. He’s definitely changed.”

“Floyd is definitely understanding the defense more, and Clay has always been a smart player. With the new coaching change and the way we’re running it, it’s set up so that you can always make plays and always be in the right position, and that’s what we’re looking forward to.”

The Aggies’ secondary also have new blood in the form of Joseph, the former Nebraska secondary coach. The reviews for Joseph have been positive thus far, including from defensive coordinator Mark Snyder, who called Joseph a “technician” and “fundamentalist.”

Everett also has noticed his new position coach’s impact thus far.

“He’s a real vocal coach and he wants you to do it exactly the way he wants you to do it, and there’s no other way about it,” Everett said. “If you’re not going to do it his way, you’re not going to play, so you have to adjust to that and you have to go out there and do it his way.”

If Joseph has it his way, there will be more answers than questions at safety come August. Fortunately for the Aggies, three weeks remain in spring practice to find some.

Best SEC recruiters 

October, 15, 2013
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Editor's note: For a look at the national recruiter power rankings based only on Class of 2014 success, click here.

It's no secret that Southeastern Conference has been the top conference in the country as far as recruiting over the last several years. The league currently has six teams ranked in the top 11 of the team recruiting rankings. Here's a look at the top 10 recruiters around the ultra-competitive conference.
When you look at the SEC's run of six straight national championships, you have to look directly at the conference's foundation: recruiting.

Since 2006 (when the SEC's championship run started), the SEC has had at least five teams finish the recruiting season ranked within the top 15 of ESPN.com's class rankings. In 2008, the SEC had four teams ranked within the top 15.

During that span (including the 2013 class), an SEC team has finished with the top class five times. There's no question that elite coaching has helped the SEC's dominance, but teams have needed elite players as well.

The 2013 class is barely in the books, but attention is squarely on the class of 2014, and Thursday we got out first look at the 2014 class rankings Insider brought to you by RecruitingNation.

Shocker, the SEC is top yet again.

While Texas holds the top spot in the team rankings with its 15 verbal commitments, including two ESPN 150 members, the SEC has seven teams ranked within the top 15. Five of them are in the top 10.

Florida currently owns the top recruiting class in the SEC with its nine verbal commits, including four ESPN 150 members. The headliners of Florida's 2014 class are running back Dalvin Cook (Miami/Central) and quarterback Will Grier (Davidson, N.C./Davidson Day School). Both are four-star prospects. Cook, who rushed for more than 1,500 yards and had 23 touchdowns as a junior, ranks as the No. 4 running back and the No. 20 prospect overall.

Grier passed for more than 5,700 yards and threw 69 touchdowns as a junior. He also rushed for more than 800 yards and eight more scores. He ranks as the No. 3 quarterback and the No. 45 prospect overall.

Texas A&M checks in at No. 3 in the class rankings with 10 commitments and two ESPN 150 members. Linebacker Hoza Scott (La Porte, Texas/ La Porte) ranks as the No. 1 outside linebacker in the 2014 class and is the No. 28 prospect overall. Safety Dylan Sumner-Gardner (Mesquite, Texas/West Mesquite) checks in as the No. 86 overall player in the ESPN 150.

LSU is fourth in the class rankings with eight commitments and three ESPN 150 members, including No. 53 overall prospect safety Edward Paris Jr. (Arlington, Texas/Timberview).

Tennessee and Ole Miss round out the top 10. Tennessee comes in at No. 7, while the Rebels sit at ninth.

You have to be really impressed with the job Butch Jones has done at Tennessee on the recruiting trail. He struck real gold with ESPN 150 running back Jalen Hurd (Hendersonville, Tenn./Beech Senior). He's the top player in Jones' nine-player class and will definitely be a recruit to keep an eye on this fall.

Alabama comes in at No. 13 in the class rankings, but Bama has only four verbal commitments. Athlete Shaun Dion Hamilton (Montgomery, Ala./Carver) is the only Alabama commit inside the ESPN 150. I'm sure that number will change pretty soon, so no need to fret, Alabama fans.

Vanderbilt ranks 15th with its seven verbals, including Dallas Rivers (Stone Mountain, Ga./Stephenson), ranked 23rd among running backs.

RecruitingNation links: SEC edition

March, 4, 2013
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DawgNation
From David Ching: Todd Grantham has only four returning starters on his defense, and while he’s asking a lot of young player to step into big roles, the amount of attrition isn’t necessarily a problem.

Spring questions Insider: The Bulldogs lost some crucial pass rushers, and now they’re trying to figure out who will generate sacks in 2013.

GatorNation
From Michael DiRocco Insider: As Florida opens spring practice, the first question the Gators must answer is what will their linebacker position look like in 2013.

GeauxTigerNation
From Gary Laney Insider: Previewing the class of 2014 defensive linemen on LSU's wish list.

More from Laney Insider: Louisiana native and ESPN Watch List tight end Jacory Washington has committed to LSU but is still looking around.

GigEmNation
From Sam Khan Jr.: Texas A&M picked up three commits over the weekend. Here are stories on the pledges of Dylan Sumner-Gardner Insider, Armani Watts Insider and DeShawn Washington Insider.

More from Khan Insider: With two more defensive backs coming on board this weekend, the Aggies' 2014 class is looking good in the secondary

TideNation
From Greg Ostendorf Insider: A month ago Jordan Sims was virtually unknown to recruiters. Now he’s one of the Southeast’s most-coveted prospects and taking it all in stride.

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