Editor's note: This is the first part of a weeklong series looking at five players to watch in spring practice, which begins Feb. 28 for Texas A&M
One of the primary issues for Texas A&M's defense in 2013 was the sheer number of inexperienced players, particularly freshmen, that had to play significant roles, either as starters or as members of the two-deep. The tough part was lining up such young players against older, more-seasoned veterans across the SEC.
The benefit to it is that this fall those players will go into the season likely holding much more confidence having been through the ringer that is major college football.
Among those having that benefit is defensive tackle Isaiah Golden. Though he was a part of the defensive tackle rotation from the very beginning of the season, his role increased significantly when the Aggies lost then-senior Kirby Ennis to a season-ending knee injury in their road game against Arkansas in late September.
Suddenly, Golden was thrust into the starting lineup, where he stayed for six of the final seven games. Defensive coordinator Mark Snyder praised Golden's effort several times late in the season while noting that the coaching staff simply asked him to "do your job" and not worry about anything else.
By season's end, Golden finished with 32 tackles and three tackles for loss but gained a wealth of experience starting against SEC offensive linemen that should benefit him in 2014. Surely, he'll be asked to do more than simply hold his own and start becoming an impact player for the Aggies. Often times last season Snyder said Golden "is going to be a really good player in this league," meaning in the future.
The future can't come soon enough for Golden, an ESPN 300 prospect coming out of Carthage (Texas) High School in the 2013 class who has the kind of size you look for in an SEC defensive lineman (he played at 6-foot-2, 310 pounds last season). As long as he can improve at a steady pace, the Aggies' defensive line success should improve as well. And considering the results last season, when the Aggies were in the bottom 15 nationally in rushing yards allowed per game (222.31) and total yards allowed per game (475.8), improvement is needed at every level of the defense.
Defensive line, and particularly, the defensive interior, is a good place to start. Golden will be a player worth keeping an eye on when the Aggies kick off spring practice later this month.