COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- One of Kevin Sumlin's top priorities since becoming Texas A&M's head coach more than two years ago has been building a team that could compete in the trenches in the SEC.
Central to that effort is building the caliber of offensive and defensive lines necessary to win in the league. With a strong offensive line already on campus upon his arrival, Sumlin and his staff have been able to focus their efforts on recruiting SEC-caliber defensive linemen. So far, the Aggies appear to have done a good job stockpiling talent on the defensive line in the last two recruiting classes.
While young players continue to come in, that puts the onus on veterans on the roster to step it up. That's certainly the case at defensive end, where the Aggies had two true freshmen see time last year (Jay Arnold and Daeshon Hall) but also have a handful of veterans (Gavin Stansbury, Julien Obioha, Tyrell Taylor and Tyrone Taylor).
Arnold and Hall are both sitting out spring recovering from injuries and Stansbury has been limited as well, but Sumlin addressed the state of his defensive ends on Monday.
"Obioha has been good," Sumlin said. "He hasn't had any problems with that back, which has been great for us. Stansbury, we know what he can do so we just want him to be completely healthy, which has given the Taylors a lot of reps because we don't know what they can do. They haven't been put in those positions to have to play a bunch of snaps and be counted on. Gavin has proven to us what he can do on Saturdays when he's healthy. When he's not healthy, it's a different guy. So we want to make sure he's healthy for the fall."
Once Arnold and Hall are healthy, it stands to reason both will figure into the mix at defensive end in the fall since both did enough to earn playing time a season ago. But the current crew will also be joined in the summer by a trio of highly touted freshmen from the 2014 recruiting class: five-star prospect Myles Garrett, ESPN 300 prospect Qualen Cunningham and three-star prospect Jarrett Johnson.
That means now is the time for inexperienced players to prove they're worthy of playing time, because the competition will only get stiffer come August.
"That puts some of the onus on the Taylors to kind of show us what they can do and get them going because we've got two other D-ends in the program who have shown what they can do in Jay Arnold and Dae Dae (Daeshon Hall)," Sumlin said. "They're getting healthy and out running now. And the guys we recruited are obviously guys we expect to come in here and compete to play. In our way of thinking ... it's time for the Taylors to show what they can do and we're giving them every opportunity to do that right now."
Though the Aggies have been precautionary with Stansbury this spring, Sumlin was encouraged by his progress last season and feels like he is now a proven commodity.
"Defensively, Gavin was probably the most improved player that we had coming through the year," Sumlin said. "That's why I said, when he's healthy, he's really, really effective for us."
Obioha is a two-year starter who said earlier this spring that he feels good. His veteran presence will be welcome in the fall, too.
For the Taylor twins, Tyrell (a senior) and Tyrone (a redshirt sophomore), now is the time to perform, Sumlin says.
"What we're trying to do right now is get the guys healthy that have experience and the Taylor twins, who don't have that type of experience, they need to prove where they are in their capability to be able to help us win," Sumlin said.