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August 9, 2009
Countdown 2009: Youth infusion at linebacker
With August training camp just a week away we continue on with our Texas A&M position previews in the Countdown to 2009 with the linebackers. Arguably A&M's thinnest position in 2008, the Aggies signed six freshmen at the position which should add much needed depth. But with so much inexperienced youth at the position, it'll be interesting to see if the Aggies can improve in 2009.
It was apparent after the 2008 season that A&M needed linebackers, and entering the 2009 season the Aggies are extremely young at the position. Much like the defensive line, the Aggie coaching staff is looking for more speed at the position.
After the spring, it looked as if Mangan, a redshirt freshman, had beaten out Lewis, a senior, in the middle. In August camp, this will be a battle to watch closely right up to opening night at Kyle Field on Sept. 5. On both sides it appears that two sophomores - Williams and Cavanaugh - will be the two starters, but both had their issues in the spring as well.
Don't be surprised to see at least one true freshman, and maybe more, in the starting lineup but at least in the rotation. The Aggies signed six linebackers in their 2008 recruiting class, and every one of the incoming linebackers will have a chance to crack the two-deep.
August camp will be a huge month in the development of the Aggie linebackers, and in order to have an improved defense in 2009 this is the position that needs the most overall improvement.
THE VETERAN: Anthony Lewis
Lewis is the lone scholarship senior at linebacker, and after playing his true freshman season Lewis has been a player that Aggie fans have waited to step into a starting role. But as a junior Lewis was beaten out by Featherston and played in just eight games, starting none, and accumulating just 17 tackles.
With Featherston moving to the new jack position as a senior in 2009, the job appeared to fall to Lewis in the spring. But once again Lewis had trouble holding onto the position, eventually relinquishing it to Mangan. But Lewis is also the elder statesman of the group and won't go down to Mangan easily. The battle between Mangan and Lewis should be one of the major competitions to watch in August camp.
KEEP A CLOSE EYE ON: Kyle Mangan
In the spring, Mangan ended in the top spot at middle linebacker ahead of Lewis. Much of the reason was because of Mangan's nose for the ball and textbook form tackling, but Mangan still made mistakes. With an entire summer under his belt at linebacker, it'll be interesting to see how much Mangan has improved since the spring.
A high school linebacker, Mangan was moved to fullback last season where he redshirted before being moved back to linebacker prior to the spring. After the move back to his natural position, Mangan excelled quickly in the spring. This August, it'll be interesting to see if he can now play the other role and hold Lewis off.
WATCH OUT FOR THE FISH: Jonathan Stewart
A&M signed six freshmen at linebacker and each of Michael Lamothe, Aaron Arterburn, Sean Porter, Andrew Weaver and Malcolm Johnson will get a chance to prove himself in August camp in order to get playing time as a true freshman, but Stewart is probably the most ready of the bunch. Stewart has speed, hitting ability and talent that could see him scale the depth chart quickly into a starting role in 2009.
Don't be surprised if Stewart is starting sooner rather than later. Both Cavanaugh and Williams were in position battles in the spring with walk-ons Derek Dumas and Michael Hodges, which could leave a door open for Stewart to jump in to a starting job. The 6-4, 221-pound Stewart spent his spring break in College Station watching the Aggies practice in the spring in order to get an early grip on the Aggie defense.
Also, keep an eye on Johnson who missed most of his senior season at Klein Collins due to an ACL tear. He got his knee cleaned up again recently, but head coach Mike Sherman said at Big 12 Media Days that he should have a chance to make an impact this season after it was speculated that he might have to redshirt because of his knee.
With the multitude of positions that the Aggies need to improve in 2009, especially on defense, linebacker is the one that might take the longest strictly because of the amount of youth that will be forced to play this season. It's very possible that the Aggies could have one, two or three freshmen in the starting lineup come Sept. 5.
The Aggie coaching staff wants much more speed on the field at the position, which is one of the major reasons you're seeing the youth movement at the position. The incoming freshmen class has loads of speed at the position, which is one major reason why all six have a chance to make an immediate impact as true freshmen.
This group of linebackers will have more depth with the addition of the freshmen, but expect to see a number of mistakes common from inexperienced starters. Overall, however, the Aggies should be more talented and somewhat improved at the position, and an increased pass rush and pressure in the backfield should also take some of the pressure off the linebackers in all facets of the game.
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