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April 2, 2012

Playing time available at safety

Now that 2012's signing day has come and gone, Texas A&M knows for sure who it will be going into SEC play with. Aggieyell.com will look at the 2012 team, position by position, as spring practice approaches. The latest in the series: safety.

Losses from last year: Trent Hunter
Players on scholarship: 7
Overall talent: Above average (when healthy)
Overall experience Moderate; low beyond Steven Campbell and Steven Terrell
Overview: For the first time in five years, number 1 won't be patrolling the defensive backfield for Texas A&M, which is a difference by itself. Without Trent Hunter, the Aggies have a lot of questions: Can Campbell stay healthy? Is Howard Matthews ready to play? Can Johntel Franklin or Devonta Burns contribute? The Aggies will need to see a lot of yes-es come out of that list of questions in order to have a strong defense in 2012.

The starter, if healthy:

Senior Steven Campbell
• 15 tackles, 1 pass defensed and 1 INT in 6 games (5 starts) in 2011
• Greatest assets: Outstanding athletic ability; very fast and good size (6 foot, 201 lbs.)
• The bottom line: Campbell has long been considered one of the most athletic Aggies on the team, but he enters his senior year having barely shown any of his potential due to repeated injury problems. He's out again this spring, but has the capability to lock down a starting job this summer. If he's ready, of course.

The heir apparent?

Sophomore Howard Matthews
• 28 tackles (19 solo), 3 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 pass defensed and 2 fumble recoveries in 13 games (2 starts) in 2011
• Greatest assets: Rivals Campbell in athleticism; SEC sized safety at 6'2", 206 lbs. Vicious hitter.
• The bottom line: Matthews showed the Aggies that he was great against the run and in rushing the passer last year, doing damage in both areas. The problem was, however, that he was a liability in pass situations, blowing multiple coverages that led to easy touchdowns. If he is improved against the pass this year, he'll be on his way to a very good A&M career. If not, the Aggies will have no choice but to sit the talented youngster in a search for other options.

The dependable option:

Senior Steven Terrell
• 24 tackles (13 solo), 2.5 TFL, 2 passes defensed, 2 INT in 13 games (4 starts) in 2011
• Greatest assets: Very fast straight line runner; good at defending passes in front of him.
• The bottom line: Terrell was solid if not spectacular last year, taking over when Campbell was hurt and Matthews wasn't ready to step in. The Aggies would likely prefer to use him as a third safety, but with Campbell's injury history and Matthews' inexperience, he'll likely see a lot of playing time this fall.

The supporting cast:

Redshirt sophomore Clay Honeycutt
• 2 tackles in 7 games in 2011
• Greatest assets: Good size (6'2", 195 lbs.); not afraid to take on ballcarriers.
• The bottom line: Every secondary needs a safety who's big and doesn't mind giving (or taking) a shot. Honeycutt is entering his third year at the position and could find his best chance to contribute is right now.

Junior Johntel Franklin
• Redshirted in 2011
• Greatest assets: Prototype size (6'2", 200 lbs.) and good cover skills
• The bottom line: A former corner, Franklin has needed to adapt to the more physical nature of safety. If he's made that adaptation, spring ball would be a good place to show it.

Redshirt freshman Devonta Burns
• Redshirted in 2011
• Greatest assets: Big hitter and solid tackler
• The bottom line: Burns redshirted last year in an effort to get him bigger and to get him used to playing more in pass coverage than he did at Arlington Martin, where he was used more as a rover. His willingness to attack ballcarriers could draw the coaching staff's attention as the Aggies prepare for the run-heavy SEC West.

True freshman Kenneth Marshall
• Early signee from the class of 2012
• Greatest assets: High energy, physical player
• The bottom line: If he can get healthy (he's currently dealing with an injury), Marshall's another safety with the aggressive mentality A&M will need. He may fall prey to some of the same growing pains Matthews did last year, but there's only one way to find out.


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