Brown: Defense improving with Chavis running it from sideline
It’s often said that communication is key in every successful relationship. It’s also why Texas A&M’s defense has made tremendous strides this season.
Before A&M’s season opener against UCLA, defensive coordinator John Chavis decided to move from the coaching box down to the sideline to lead his troops from field level. He’s remained on the ground every game this season, and it’s especially helped the linebackers with junior Otaro Alaka on the weakside and sophomore Tyrel Dodson in the middle helping teach their true freshmen mates Buddy Johnson on the strongside and Anthony Hines III, Alaka’s backup.
“Chief has done a nice job with them of getting them in the spot where they can handle it and let [Alaka and Dodson] bounce back and forth and keep the pressure on [opponents], so [Johnson and Hines III] can learn what they are doing,” head coach Kevin Sumlin said.
And that’s exactly where A&M’s defense has seen improvement. For a team that frequently got caught out of place in the second half of games last season, alignment and in-game adjustments have improved drastically in 2017.
Linebacker and 12th Man Cullen Gillaspia says it starts with Chavis instructing on the sideline.
“He’s able to talk to us immediately, and he’s able to draw it up on the board, and it’s not like telephone,” Gillaspia said. “It’s not going from [player to player to player] to get to each of us.”
Sumlin said the change spurred from the Aggies’ inexperienced linebacking corps.
“He wanted to talk to linebackers and really kind of have a feel for where they are instead of on the phones,” Sumlin said.
Alaka is the only player in the position group who returned carrying a true measure of experience. His 74 tackles in 2016 registered third on the team, but he struggled to stay healthy in his first two seasons in Aggieland.
Alongside Alaka is Dodson, who has worked his way into a starting role after tallying 27 tackles off the bench as a true freshman last year. So far this season, Dodson ranks ninth in the SEC in tackles per game at 7.7.
Supplementing the two starters is Hines III, a coveted four-star recruit and Under Armor All-American who already has picked up 11 tackles and a sack in six games. Johnson also has gained some experience in his first year in Aggieland.
The linebackers have helped A&M’s run defense improve drastically, moving from 80th in the national rankings at the end of last season to 29th through six games in 2017.
The defense also is wrapping up better with Chavis in its ear. According to Vinnie Ronca of ProFootballFocus.com, A&M’s defense has missed only 39 tackles through six games this season. Last year at the same mark, the Aggies had missed 98, including 39 against Tennessee alone, according to Ronca.
As any good Chief knows, if you want the job done correctly, sometimes it’s best to join the troops on the front line.
“He knows what he wants to get done, and he’s able to communicate it to us a lot easier on the sidelines,” Gillaspia said.