Texas A&M defense has questions of its own

Johnny Manziel isn't the only question mark the Aggies have heading into the season.

There's no doubt the uncertainly surrounding the future of Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel could have a huge impact on the Aggies' bid to become national championship contenders.

But if the Aggies don't fill in some huge holes on defense, even if Manziel plays and once again puts up Heisman Trophy-type numbers, it might not matter much.

The Aggies know that too.

All you have to do is ask defensive coordinator Mark Snyder about where his biggest concern is on his defense.

"Up front," he said. "Linebacker. A little bit of depth in the secondary. Besides that, no much."

At least Snyder has a sense of humor, but he knows the Aggies have plenty of holes to fill. They were in a similar situation last year and came out just fine. A&M allowed less than 400 yards per game and opponents averaged just 21.8 points a contest.

"We've got a lot of unknowns on defense," the second-year coordinator said. "The good thing is we've got about 11 or 12 guys that have played in the system a little bit, have been on Kyle Field, traveled, which is a far cry from where we were last year. We're still very, very young. I think the challenge is very similar."

The Aggies have so many unknowns because so many of the known quantities from last year are gone. Damontre Moore, the best defender on the team in 2012, is in the NFL. So is linebacker Sean Porter. Lineman Spencer Nealy and defensive back Dustin Harris also used up their eligibility. So did Jonathan Stewart.

The 2013 Aggies will open the season with just five returning starters. One of those, nose guard Kirby Ennis, has been suspended for the season opener because of an arrest. Cornerback Deshazor Everett could also be disciplined for an arrest. The same goes for safety Floyd Raven Sr., who was involved in the same incident as Everett.

The team is also dealing with the death of redshirt freshman defensive lineman Polo Manukainiu, who was killed in a traffic accident last week. The entire team will attend his funeral this weekend.

All the graduation and uncertainly leaves the Aggies with just two seniors starting and eight freshmen on their two deep on defense.

That's a tough way to make a living in the physical SEC but Snyder believes his group is up for the task.

"We'll know a little more Friday and Saturday when they get the pads on," Snyder said. "They were real good high school players but that doesn't always translate to college football players. That's what's exciting about preseason camp. It makes our job fun. Not easy, but fun."

If the Aggies lose Everett and Raven, who is expected to start at safety, for an extended period of time that puts the defense in an even bigger hole.

Everett is the most dynamic player in the secondary and had the defensive play of the year last season with his goal-line interception of Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron.

"We've got a plan put together," Snyder said. "We have to have a plan. Something we did before we went on vacation. We knew there were some young guys we'd have to play anyway. That won't hinder anything we do from a prep standpoint. We're going to proceed as normal and as things come down the pipe, the next guy has to stand up."

Senior safety Toney Hurd Jr., the No. 2 returning tackler on the team, is convinced the influx of youth can only help the defense.

"Across the board when you've got competition it makes the team better," he said. "These young guys come in with a lot of talent. They will be very, very prepared to make plays for us this season."

If nothing else, it looks like they'll have plenty of opportunities to do it this year.