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Time for the talent to live up to expectations

NCAA Football: Louisiana State at Texas A&M Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

We continue our position preview series today with the defensive line. There is no way to sugarcoat the performance of Texas A&M’s defensive line in 2022. Though the talent in this unit was evident at times, the Aggies gave up 208.8 yards rushing per game and managed just 19 sacks as a team on the season. Texas A&M was hampered by youth and inexperience last season but a big step up will be expected for a unit that features elite talent across the board.

Who did we lose?

The Aggies return the vast majority of the talented but inexperienced roster from 2022, one of the major reasons Texas A&M expects to take a step forward at this position. Tunmise Adeleye represents perhaps the biggest loss, transferring to Michigan State during the offseason. While Adileye would have provided an additional veteran presence up front, he only appeared in two games over two seasons in Aggieland. The Aggies also lost true freshman Anthony Lucas to the transfer portal. Lucas saw action in eight games in 2022 before transferring to USC.

Who do we bring back?

McKinnley Jackson: The senior defensive tackle holds the title of elder statesman for this defense in 2023. Jackson, when healthy, made a huge impact in the trenches. Named the defensive MVP for the Aggies in 2022, he’ll look to use his strength up front to improve Texas A&M’s rushing defense this year.

Shemar Turner: The former five-star recruit started 11 games in his sophomore season, tallying 32 tackles, including 4.5 for loss. He has the body to play either inside or outside depending on the package.

Walter Nolen: For those who watched Nolen’s high school film, the Tennessee native immediately seeing playtime early and often as a true freshman was no surprise. Nolen received the Defensive Top Newcomer award in 2022. With Jackson holding down the nose and Nolen at three-tech, the Aggies have an incredibly fearsome top-two on the interior defensive line.

Fadil Diggs: Diggs appeared to be A&M’s most disruptive pass rusher in 2022, tallying three sacks and five tackles for loss before going down eight games into the season.

Shemar Stewart: The true freshman played in all 12 games last year, starting six games. He was named to the SEC All-Freshman team.

What other names should we know?

The key to effective defensive line play is a mixture of experience and depth. The Aggies have both in spades provided they stay healthy. In addition to the players named above, the Aggies have a wealth of talent to spell them, including senior Isaiah Raikes, redshirt junior Albert Regis, sophomores LT Overton, Enai White and Malick Sylla, redshirt freshman Gabriel Brownlow-Dindy and five-star true freshman D.J. Hicks. While there is potential across the board, Sylla in particular excites me as he possesses the makings of a fantastic pass rusher with his blend of length and agility - If he puts all the pieces together, he will give opposing offensive linemen massive headaches.

Overall Grade: B+

I’m trying to temper my optimism for this year with a heavy dose of realism based on the performance from 2022 but truthfully, I am incredibly excited about the potential with this group. I expected last year to be a step back given the lack of experience. This year? We should see a massive leap forward. The talent has now had a chance to mesh and get used to playing alongside each other. The results should be immediate.. I’m giving them a B+ based on last year’s lack of production but I fully expect the unit to be strongly in A territory by the time the 2023 season ends.