It may be early in the offseason, but Texas A&M’s spring football season is less than a month away, and all eyes will be on how new head coach Mike Elko and his impressive coaching staff will help what should be an elite defensive unit, led incoming senior defensive lineman Shemar Turner, former Purdue Edge Nic Scourton, who led the Big 10 in sacks (10) last season.
Not to ignore the 22 transfers that are due to make an immediate impact, but looking at the current roster members that need to take the next step in their collective development will help dictate what Aggie fans should look forward to during spring football, which is now less than a month away.
While Turner’s return basically solidifies A&M’s defensive line, younger members in trenches, including DJ Hicks and Gabriel Brownlow-Dindy, showed flashes during their extended snaps in the Aggies bowl loss to Oklahoma State and are both deemed to play much larger roles in 2024.
Including several players in the secondary and a linebacker competing for a starting job, here are the five Aggies on defense that need to step up during spring football, heading into the 2024 season.
Linebacker — Sophomore Daymion Sanford
Incoming sophomore linebacker Taurean York needs help next season after the departure of standout LB Edgerrin Cooper, who will likely hear his name called in the first two days of the 2024 NFL Draft.
Even though Elko gained veteran transfer linebacker Alex Howard from the transfer portal, there’s another talented backer who has the chance to earn a starting position this spring, and his name is Daymion Sanford.
Coming in as a 2023 4-star prospect and a noted pass rusher, Sanford possesses the size (6-2 225 pounds), speed, and defensive instincts to increase his snaps heavily next season. In 12 games last season, Sanford recorded four tackles.
Safety — Sophomore Dalton Brooks
Texas A&M’s safety rotation will have several new faces patrolling the defensive backfield in 2024, including sophomore do-it-all athlete Dalton Brooks. With Demani Richardson headed to the NFL, the starting strong safety spot is up for grabs.
Like incoming 2024 5-star athlete Terry Bussey, Brooks was a high school superstar in Shiner, Texas, who literally did all on the field but has found his collegiate niche at the safety position due to his coverage speed and ball skills, notching his first career interception against Oklahoma State in the Texas Bowl.
Standing at 6-0 and 195 pounds, Brooks appeared in 11 games in a reserve role, recording 18 tackles (10 solo tackles), a tackles for loss, and an interception on the year. Brooks is poised to stand out during spring game practices.
Defensive lineman — Sophomore Gabriel Brownlow-Dindy
Back to the trenches we go, as returning big man Shemar Turner will lead the charge for new defensive coordinator Jay Bateman, who will work with Elko to field one of the top pass rush units in the SEC.
However, needing a team effort to bring pressure consistently and stop the run, the nose tackle postion needs size, strength, and enough athleticism to fill the gaps and bring the heat with McKinnley Jackson joining Cooper and Richardson in the 2024 NFL Draft.
Who on the Aggies roster possesses all those traits? Sophomore DL Gabriel Brownlow-Dindy is an absolute stud, and even though he was buried on the depth chart last season, it is time to live up to his 5-star recruiting status in 2024. At 6-3, 300 pounds, the Florida native only appeared in five games, tallying 3 tackles and 0.5 a sack. Mismanaged by former head coach Jimbo Fisher last season; expect a significant role change starting next month.
Cornerback — Sophomore Jayvon Thomas
This offseason, Mike Elko added five cornerbacks from the transfer portal after last season’s blatant struggles at the position due to a lack of depth and size on the outside, as Elko, during his defensive coordinator days with the program, consistently recruited some of the taller corners year after year to combat the larger SEC receivers on the boundary.
While several of said transfers bring a wealth of experience to the table, incoming sophomore cornerback Jayvon Thomas’s trial-by-fire freshman campaign will only help him improve, and with new cornerback coach Ishmael Aristide ready to help him reach his potential, no one in the program is giving up on Thomas.
Thomas impressed Jimbo Fisher and his staff during last season’s fall camp, earning first-team snaps while starting one game against Ole Miss. With new competition and a year under his belt, Thomas’s development is definitely something to keep an eye on next month.
Appearing in 8 games last season, Thomas recorded 15 tackles (9 solo tackles).
Defensive lineman — Sophomore DJ Hicks
In my humble opinion, incoming sophomore defensive lineman DJ Hicks is the most important player to watch for this spring for Texas A&M, as one of the highest-rated recruits to ever sign with the program is destined to make make an impact next season behind Shemar Turner.
While some may put an emphasis on starters vs. backups, Hicks is much too skilled to keep to not received a significant uptick in snaps, and with the departure of DL Walter Nolen, who recently transferred to Ole Miss, Hicks will likely take a majority of his snaps next season.
Standing at a hulking 6-5 290 pounds, Hicks is a bulldozer with immense pass-rush potential and has already shown the ability to stop the run at a consistent clip. Appearing in 10 games during his freshman campaign, Hicks recorded 13 tackles (6 solo tackles), two tackles for loss, and a sack on the year.