Peppy Kines energizes A&M defense

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- The wizened old coach doesn't look like he'd be a fountain of energy.

But first glances can sometimes be deceiving, particularly after 64-year-old Texas A&M defensive coordinator Joe Kines has charged onto a steamy practice field for the umpteenth time in his storied career.

Texas A&M defensive players said Kines, a 40-year veteran of coaching, has pumped life in the Aggies' defensive philosophy with an aggressive blitzing defense and an even louder voice exhorting them on the field.

"He's a fiery, fiery guy and you just love what he brings us," A&M cornerback Jordan Pugh said. "You have to come with energy when you play for him because that's how playing defense is. It's a perfect match."

Rather than the read-and-react strategies employed by former coordinator Gary Darnell, Kines' Aggies will be flying at quarterbacks with hopes of making big plays. The high-risk, high-reward philosophy has charged returning members with excitement that has been missing in recent seasons.

"He's making us play faster," A&M defensive end Michael Bennett said. "He asks us if we want to be a shiny car or a bumped-up one. And I consider myself to be a Mercedes."

The Aggies struggled defensively last season, ranking 83rd nationally in total defense, 91st in pass efficiency defense and 92nd in pass defense.

Kines' most immediate task is pumping some life into a pass rush that notched only 18 sacks in 13 games last season to rank 104th nationally.

Despite losing five starters from that unit, Kines is trying to transform his current team with his coaching mantra. Namely, he wants offense to adjust to what his defense is doing, instead of the defense adjusting to the whims of the offense.

"He's changed our mentality and the way we go about things," A&M defensive end Cyril Obiozor said. "We're a lot more aggressive in getting the passer. We've got to hit the quarterback a lot more, and I think we will."

That strategy is easier said than done, particularly considering the Aggies will face a slew of explosive passing offenses throughout the season.

"In the throwing game in this conference, the first thing everybody thinks about is a blitz, but what you're talking about is just getting consistent pressure on the passer. You've got to find a way to get the pressure.

"You might bring them all sometimes, but if you can get pressure out of your base defense, you're way down the road from anybody else. And that's what we hope to do."

Key for that strategy will be increased production from starting defensive ends Bennett and Obiozor.

"I love this defense because it's either eat or be eaten," Obiozor said. "And we're all very hungry."

Rebuilding the Aggies' defensive mentality will be the biggest immediate challenge for Kines, particularly considering how stacked the Big 12 is with strong passing attacks.

"We have great offenses, great offensive coordinators and a boatload of great quarterbacks," Kines said. "It's like being a cat in a room full of rockers. You have to be careful where you put your tail."

Kines was out of coaching last season at Alabama, entertaining clients for the Crimson Tide athletic department at game-day parties in a suite at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

But he left little doubt he preferred being back coaching and spinning his witticisms after his one-season sabbatical -- even with the immense test of rebuilding A&M's moribund defense facing him.

"I'm just energized because I woke up this morning. And at my age, a good warm cup of coffee and a hot shower is about all they are," Kines said, laughing. "But getting to go to practice is a heck of a deal. And if you can't get excited about this kind of challenge you don't have red blood flowing through your veins."