Pass rush improving for Aggies

COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Through its first seven games in 2013, Texas A&M turned in seven total sacks. Through two games so far in 2014, the Aggies already have six.

In 13 games in 2013, the Aggies' highest individual sack total belonged to former defensive end Gavin Stansbury and current outside linebacker Shaan Washington, who both had three sacks for the season.

In 2014, true freshman Myles Garrett has already matched that total in two contests.

Few things can cure defensive woes faster than getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks. It's something the Aggies struggled mightily with last year but have gotten off to a good start on this season.

"We have a couple D-ends that came in and we finally have some guys that can create their own pass rush instead of having to blitz all the time or create seams and get guys out of coverage," Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said. "Guys that can create their own pass rush [is] something that we need. It gives you some more flexibility on defense."

The on-field difference is noticeable. Aggies defensive coordinator Mark Snyder has the luxury of using a package on obvious passing downs that places both Garrett and sophomore defensive end Daeshon Hall — who are traditionally "rush" ends in the Aggies' defense — on the field at the same time in a three-man front, with fast linebackers behind them. Combining the speed and athleticism of Hall on one side with the strength and speed of Garrett on the other, it has helped the Aggies find something they sorely needed last year and will continue to need if they hope to continue improvement on defense.

Garrett, a five-star recruit who was ranked the No. 4 overall player in the 2014 recruiting class, wasted no time making an impact, getting a sack and two quarterback hurries at South Carolina. He followed that up with two sacks and two more hurries on Saturday in a 73-3 rout of Lamar.

"He is what we need," Sumlin said. "He has three sacks, he's probably already matched our [highest individual] total from last year. And I bet he probably missed three or four. He's going to have to learn when he comes off that [edge], to break down, bend, do some other things. Those [offensive tackles] aren't going to stand there like in high school. He's not sneaking up on anybody any more. People are turning protections to him and trying to block him. It's a learning experience for him."

Hall, who had two shoulder surgeries in his brief career in Aggieland, has added considerable weight to his frame since signing with the Aggies in the 2013 class and is around 260 pounds now. He led the team with seven tackles on Saturday, had two tackles for loss, a sack and a quarterback hurry, spending much of the night in Lamar's backfield.

"His strength has improved," Sumlin said. "Here's a guy who's had two shoulder surgeries last year, operated on both shoulders, really worked hard in the weight room, put on 20-25 pounds, still has a ways to go with that. He's an explosive player off the edge and that's what we need."

Hall and Garrett aren't the only ones bringing pressure. The Aggies have benefited from added depth on their defensive line, particularly at defensive end, with true freshmen Qualen Cunningham and Jarrett Johnson joining the mix that includes veteran end Julien Obioha. The injection of new blood has allowed the Aggies opportunities to rotate defensive linemen and keep players fresh throughout games.

Strongside linebacker Donnie Baggs is back at his natural position as a senior and is becoming a weapon off the edge for the Aggies. Texas A&M also has several young linebackers who bring added depth and athletic ability to the edges of its defense, allowing Snyder myriad options to create pressure.

After totaling 21 sacks last season, the Aggies appear on pace to easily surpass that mark. That's good news if the Aggies plan to continue progressing on defense.

"We've got to have guys that can create a pass rush and we didn't have that last year," Sumlin said. "We've got a couple guys that can do that now and that really helps our defense."