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High potential, expectations with John Chavis-Texas A&M pairing

1/8/2015

Texas A&M fans were hoping for a "home-run" hire when Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin began his search for a new defensive coordinator in late November.

Snagging "The Chief" from a division rival whom they have yet to beat or finish ahead of in the standings since joining the SEC qualifies as a grand slam.

Bringing John Chavis to Aggieland to revive Texas A&M's defense could have significant positive consequences in 2015 and beyond.

Chavis' résumé speaks for itself. He has coached in the SEC continuously since 1989, with the past 20 years spent as a defensive coordinator -- the first 14 for Tennessee, the past six for LSU. At Tennessee, he was part of a national-championship team and regularly had his defenses ranked in the top 25 nationally. During the six-season span Chavis led the LSU defense, only one team in the nation allowed fewer points per game than the 17.1 the Tigers allowed: Alabama (12.8).

Choose the measuring stick, and Chavis' Tigers stood up well. Over the past six seasons combined, the Tigers rank in the top five nationally in yards per game, yards per play, passing defense, red-zone defense and defensive goal-to-go efficiency. They were 11th nationally in rushing defense and 17th in defensive third-down conversion percentage over the past six seasons (35.3 percent).

Against only SEC teams, LSU remained strong. The Tigers are either second, third or fourth in the SEC over the past six years in 11 separate defensive categories, including scoring, third downs, and turnovers.

The Aggies are in dire need of defensive improvement after spending the past two seasons at the bottom of the SEC in yards per game allowed and rushing defense. In the three-year span since Texas A&M joined the SEC, the Aggies rank among the bottom five teams in the league against SEC competition in each of those 11 defensive categories: scoring, yards per game, yards per play, rushing, yards per rush, passing, yards per pass attempt, third down, goal-to-go, red-zone conversion rates, and turnovers. Sumlin went after Chavis precisely to remedy those glaring statistics.

On paper, it looks like a dream team: Sumlin's offensive reputation paired with Chavis' defensive experience.

At LSU, Chavis didn't usually have the benefit of a top-flight offense to go with the Tigers' salty defense. Quarterback questions were the norm rather than the exception, though LSU traditionally has a strong ground game stocked with good offensive linemen and quality running backs. In Chavis' six seasons at LSU, the Tigers averaged 26.1 points per game against SEC opponents, which ranked seventh in the conference.

Now, he's joining a Texas A&M program that has averaged 35.1 points per game against SEC teams since joining the league in 2012. The Aggies have a wealth of young playmakers, including a bright-eyed freshman quarterback, Kyle Allen, who just came off a career performance in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl.

Like any transition, it's unlikely to progress snags. Chavis is used to having a team that controls time of possession and thus doesn't leave his defenses on the field for the majority of the game. Sumlin has never been a time-of-possession head coach, and his teams usually operate at a breakneck tempo, though he did show signs this season of slowing the pace occasionally in wins against Auburn and Louisiana-Monroe.

In Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Chavis had the benefit of deeper and more talented defenses than what will initially be at his disposal in College Station, Texas. It's normal for LSU to have multiple defensive players chosen in the NFL draft, but for the Aggies in recent years, it has been the exception.

Young talent does exist across Aggies' current defensive two-deep, led by true freshman defensive end Myles Garrett. Of the 29 players on the Aggies' final 2014 depth chart, 15 were freshmen or sophomores, and seven true freshmen -- Garrett, defensive tackle Zaycoven Henderson, linebackers Otaro Alaka and Josh Walker, and defensive backs Armani Watts, Nick Harvey and Donovan Wilson -- started at least one game for the Aggies this season.

The Aggies are still trying to stock sufficient defensive talent to field a top-flight SEC defense. They did a good job in the 2014 recruiting class, which yielded those true freshmen starters, but they still need more talent, frankly, LSU-type talent -- and depth -- in order to make this work how they hopes it will.

If they continue to acquire the necessary talent, the potential that exists in the Aggies' marriage to Chavis seems limitless. The expectations will certainly be stratospheric.

Sumlin's teams have never been known for great defense: his squads finished worse than 100th nationally in yards allowed per game in five of his seven seasons as a head coach. But this is a promising sign that he's committed to reversing that trend.

He reached across the Texas-Louisiana border to pluck one of the most respected defensive names in the country from an SEC West rival, one that coordinated defenses that even Johnny Manziel couldn't conquer. Sumlin had a front row seat to the Chief's success the past three years and took a simple approach in hopes of delivering defensive success at Texas A&M:

If you can't beat 'em, hire 'em.