Texas A&M Aggies: Team Overview
Returning Offensive Starters: 6 (SE, LT, LG, RT, QB, RB)
Returning Defensive Starters: 5 (NT, LDE, WLB, RCB, LCB)
Returning Specialists: 1 (PK)
Projected Overall Record: 10-2 (UA, LSU)
Projected SEC Record: 6-2 (UA, LSU)
Projected SEC West Record: 4-2 (UA, LSU)
Ratings (Ex, Vg, Av, Fr, Pr)
Quarterbacks: Ex Defensive Line: Av
Running Backs: Vg Linebackers: Av
Wide Receivers: Vg Defensive Backs: Fr
Offensive Line: Vg Special Teams: Av
This has been anything but a quiet offseason for the Texas A&M Aggies, who were hoping to mount a national title challenge in their second season in the SEC. The Aggies might still do it, but they’ll have to do it amidst a circus that would impress even P.T. Barnum. Texas A&M’s star quarterback has been the subject of more intrigue and scrutiny than the WikiLeaks case, and he hasn’t been the only one who has run afoul of team policy. And then there are the football questions, such as whether the wide receiver corps can be rebuilt, whether the offensive line will jell quickly and whether the secondary can be improved.
Texas A&M runs the spread offense, as everyone already knows. It’s not a particularly inventive version of the offense, but all that changes once you-know-who steps under center. Texas A&M showed admirable balance in its first year in the SEC, leading the conference in all major statistical categories. Most of the weapons are back, but the offensive line has been shuffled and there are holes at receiver and – surprisingly – tight end.
The reason Johnny Manziel‘s potential suspension for alleged connections to autograph brokers is such big news, is that a Manziel suspension is the only way most of the Aggies’ opponents will have even half a chance at victory. Manziel threw for “only” 26 touchdowns in 2012, but it felt like 56. That’s because he added 1,410 yards and 21 touchdowns on the ground and turned SEC defenses into playground football. Manziel is at his best when the plan goes awry, and his incredible field vision has never been seen before at this level. The real question is whether he’s even thinking about football anymore. Manziel spent the offseason partying, and there were rumors that he behaved badly at the renowned Manning Family passing camp. Those stories were in the wind long before the autograph scandal broke, and that story came less than a week after his father gave a curious, rambling interview that sounded straight out of Hollywood. If Manziel doesn’t play, or he gets hurt, there will no longer be Jamiell Showers to replace him. Showers transferred to UTEP, leaving Matt Joeckel as Manziel’s backup. Joeckel has good size and throws reasonably well, but he is not anywhere close to Manziel in development. With Manziel, Texas A&M could probably score points on an NFL team. Without him, the Aggies are toast.
Lost in the Manziel worship in 2012 was the performance of tailback Ben Malena, who wrestled the job away from Christine Michael and became an absolute tempest out of the backfield. Malena is the perfect spread running back, small and fast but also tough enough to occasionally run inside. He’s a weapon in the passing game and plays bigger than his size would suggest. Depth is also good behind him, with Brandon Williams and Trey Williams, a pair of sophomores, vying for the job. Brandon Williams is the biggest of the three at 200 pounds. Oregon transfer Tra Carson might find himself in the mix with a good fall camp; at 230 pounds, he would be a situational bruiser. He saw limited action for the Ducks two years ago.Texas A&M uses no fullbacks.
The fact that Mike Evans returns alone makes this unit at least decent. Evans, as a freshman, caught 1,105 yards worth of passes but only 5 touchdowns. He has great size at 6’5”, 228 and was a matchup nightmare for most teams, although Alabama handled him reasonably well. But the rest of the unit needs to be rebuilt. Ryan Swope, Uzoma Nwachukwu and Thomas Johnson are all gone, leaving LaKendrick Williams, Malcome Kennedy and Derel Walker as the likely competitors for the other two starting jobs. Kennedy has the most ability of the three, while Williams is a waterbug and Walker good height. Sophomore Sabian Holmes and heralded true freshman Ja’Quay Williams will see the most time of the reserves. Tight end might be an issue, but no one will know for sure until the season gets going. Texas A&M came into the league with Nehemiah Hicks starting last year, and Hicks received preseason all-SEC consideration based on his 2011 season and potential. But Hicks was essentially left to rot in the Aggies’ scheme in 2012, and saw time at receiver this spring. He also is in a fight for the job with former Tennessee Vol Cameron Clear. It will be interesting to see whether head coach Kevin Sumlin uses the tight ends in a different manner this year.
A lot of shuffling is going on in order to get the five best players on the field. With Luke Joeckel heading to the NFL, Jake Matthews moves from right tackle to left. Matthews was a fine right tackle in 2012, but he doesn’t have Joeckel’s footwork. Manziel seems to be better when the blocking breaks down, anyway – a good thing, because it will break down more this year. Cedric Ogbuehi moves from guard to right tackle to replace Matthews there, while Jarvis Harrison returns at left guard. That leaves the Aggies needing a new center and right guard, which were staffed by Mike Matthews and Germain Ifedi, respectively, at the end of spring. Matthews is small for an SEC lineman, while Ifedi is a freshman with no experience. Deoth is in good shape, with three upperclassmen – guards Shep Klinke and Garrett Gramling and center Ben Compton – backing up three of the slots, while sophomores Jeremiah Stuckey and Joseph Cheek handle the tackle positions. Cheek is a JUCO transfer who went through spring practice. The performance of this group likely hangs on Ogbuehi’s shoulders, and whether his move from right guard to right tackle solidifies the line, or causes a soft spot.
Texas A&M runs a 4-3 scheme as its base, but the Aggies were in nickel so much of the year that it’s essentially a 4-2-5. Moreover, this was a mediocre defense on its good days and a bad defense on its worst days. Rushing defense was acceptable, but four of the front seven starters must be replaced. The secondary was nightmarish for most of the year and observers feel Sumlin hasn’t fixed it yet. The Aggies must go from spurts of overachieving to consistent playmaking.
The best lineman here is nosetackle Kirby Ennis, who is currently in the doghouse and listed as suspended for the first game. Given the Aggies’ first game comes against Rice, Texas A&M could win that game with Johnny Manziel’s lawyers lined up on the defensive front. Ennis needs to stay clear of trouble, because the Aggies have nothing but freshmen behind him and tackle Alonzo Williams. Ends Gavin Stansbury and Julien Obioha are quality players; Obioha, in particular, could be a star in the making. The backups, Brandon Alexander and Tyrell Taylor, are just OK. All eyes will be focused on the inside of the line. True freshman Isaiah Golden isn’t just expected to contribute, he’s expected to be a key part of the rotation. True freshman Jordan Points is set to add depth, but Points would benefit from sitting out a season to gain wait. The coaches shifted another freshman, Kimo Tipoti, to offensive line after the spring. Little-used Ivan Robinson might be able to contribute in a pinch.
Senior Steven Jenkins is a solid weakside player, but he goes from third-best in a group of three last year to being the bellcow in 2013. The other two presumptive starters, Donnie Baggs and JUCO transfer Tommy Sanders, are red-chip players who have yet to prove their value as starters. On top of that, all three players are quite a bit smaller than the typical SEC players at those positions. Signee Brett Wade and career backups Nate Askew and Shaun Ward are the top players available off the bench. This will be yet another position where injuries could become a killer.
There is some raw talent here, but aside from a handful of games in which the Aggies played over their heads – regrettably, one of them being against Alabama – Texas A&M’s secondary was easy pickings in 2012. Cornerbacks De’Vante Harris and Deshazor Everett return, and both need to get better quickly. Everett in particular has a high ceiling, but the two looked completely lost far too often last year and now the opposition has game tape to study. The safeties are new, although Floyd Raven Sr. was last year’s fifth man. Howard Matthews will start strong safety. Tramain Jacobs and Alex Sezer are set to be the top reserve cornerbacks, although Sezer, a freshman, is tiny. Tony Hurd and Clay Honeycutt were the top reserves at safety leaving spring. Hurd is the same size as Sezer (5’8”, 180), which might not translate well at safety in the SEC.
Before he’s out of College Station, Taylor Bertolet will do big things at placekicker. But his true freshman season was beset with inconsistency. The Aggies need a new punter; sophomore Drew Kaser led the battle in spring drills. Bertolet has a big leg, but must become more accurate. Kaser looked solid in early drills. There is plenty of speed available in the kick return game, with running back Trey Williams the biggest home-run threat.
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