Returning Offensive Starters: 7 (SE, FL, WR, QB, C, RG, RT)
Returning Defensive Starters: 5 (RDE, RDT, LDE, RCB, S)
Returning Specialists: 2 (PK, P)
Projected Overall Record: 6-6 (UA, Ark, AU, LSU, OM, ASU)
Projected SEC Record: 3-5 (UA, Ark, AU, LSU, OM)
Projected SEC West Record: 1-5 (UA, Ark, AU, LSU, OM)
Ratings (Ex, Vg, Av, Fr, Pr)
Quarterbacks: Vg Defensive Line: Vg
Running Backs: Vg Linebackers: Pr
Wide Receivers: Vg Defensive Backs: Fr
Offensive Line: Av Special Teams: Ex
How far the Aggies go in 2015 will be determined by how quickly new defensive coordinator John Chavis can right the ship. The Aggies have never lacked for offense since joining the SEC, but their built-for-the-Big-12 defense just can’t cut it. In addition to Chavis, head coach Kevin Sumlin finally seems to be getting serious about allocating assets to the defensive side of the ball. The Aggies might also find themselves better on offense simply by getting rid of Kenny Hill, who had become a distraction there. Texas A&M will put up a ton of points, but can the Aggies keep opposing offenses from doing the same?
Sumlin’s offense is a full-time, four-wide passing spread that has more in common with the Air Raid offense than anything else. For the first time since joining the SEC, the Aggies won’t use a tight end full-time, choosing to double down on wide splits, every-down passing and a running game that is used as mostly a change of pace. The Aggies were 12th in the country in passing a year ago and want to be ranked even higher than that in 2015.
Kyle Allen proved he still needed some seasoning in his true freshman season, but at least he isn’t the departed Kenny Hill, who seemed more concerned about stats and trademarking his own nickname than actually quarterbacking the team. It didn’t hurt that Texas A&M also attracted signee Kyler Murray, which made Hill expendable. Allen still gets flustered against top defenses, but he has good vision and arm strength and can escape a rush. Murray is small (5’11”, 183 pounds) but a good athlete and a polished prospect in a spread system. None of the other quarterbacks – Kobe Miller, Jordan Traylor, Conner McQueen – have made a move forward. JUCO transfer Jake Hubenak might actually end up as the third quarterback. But if it gets that far, A&M’s season will be off the rails. The best-case scenario is for Allen to leap forward in his development.
Tra Carson is in the wrong system to showcase his talents. The 230-pound bruiser needs to have a lead blocker working in front of him, but he’s been relegated to draws and zone-read handoffs. His stats from 2014 (124 carries, 581 yards, 4.7 avg., 5 TD) aren’t bad, but they aren’t special, either. Senior Brandon Williams, whose statline was even more mediocre, is the top backup. The one good thing here is that depth isn’t lacking; James White holds promise as an all-around back and will challenge Williams for the backup role, while scatback Brice Dolezal adds a change of pace. Signee Jay Bradford is somewhere in between in terms of size, but he has enough talent to see the field as a freshman. Fellow signee Kendall Bussey is a fireplug who might find a role as well. The younger end of the depth chart is definitely set for future years Presuming Sumlin can find a way to better integrate Carson into the gameplan, the running game could be a strength for this team.
Although leading receiver Malcome Kennedy has moved on, the next three from 2014 – Speedy Noil, Josh Reynolds and Ricky Seals-Jones – have returned, and all three bring something different to the table. Reynolds is the tall, slender flanker who presents a matchup problem for a field corner. Seals-Jones is the larger, physical receiver who small DBs hate to face. Noil is the small, lightning-quick guy who can either line up in the slot or flash down the sidelines. As usual, the Aggies’ receivers will be hard to handle. What is lacking is a good tight end. True freshman Jordan Davis will play the position, but the Aggies have basically schemed him out of the regular offense. One of two seniors, Caden Smith or Brandon Alexander, will back him up. Alexander is the prototypical tall, powerful Y-line tight end and will be used primarily in blocking situations. The fourth starting wide receiver is likely to be either Ed Pope, Sabian Holmes or Christian Kirk. Holmes and Pope are veterans with solid resumes, while Kirk is a heralded signee who comes across as a thicker Speedy Noil. Depth is in good shape, with Frank Iheanacho, Boone Niederhofer, Jeremy Tabuyo and JUCO transfer Damian Ratley providing plenty of pop off the bench. Sumlin has over-recruited for the wide receiver position in recent years, to be honest.
Last year’s unit took a step back; this year’s unit is full of questions. The left side in particular will be interesting to watch; both presumptive starters are JUCO transfers who sat out the 2014 season to redshirt. Avery Gennesy draws the left tackle assignment, while Jermaine Eluemunor will start at left guard. Three returning starters line up next to them, but they need to improve across the board. Germain Ifedi will start at right tackle and Joseph Cheek draws the long straw at right guard. Center Mike Matthews has the name and the family bloodlines, but he wasn’t consistent enough in 2014. Depth could get tricky. Junior Jeremiah Stuckey is the reserve center, but it’s freshmen everywhere else. Koda Martin came out of spring backing up both tackle positions, while signee Keaton Sutherland was leading at both reserve guard slots. They’ll need to pick up help from names such as Justin Dworaczyk, Connor Lanfear and Trevor Elbert. Fortunately, Texas A&M recruited well along both lines of scrimmage, but this unit needs to prove itself, particularly in the running game.
John Chavis’ 4-3 defense at LSU made fools of several opposing offenses. The Aggies are hoping for the same here, on a quick timetable. But some patience is probably needed. The Aggies have the potential to be solid up front, but Chavis needs good linebackers, particularly a talented MLB, to really make his scheme sing, and he doesn’t have that here. In addition, the secondary still needs work. If Chavis likes a challenge, he’s got one.
The end combination of Myles Garrett and Julien Obioha is, by itself, enough to elevate this unit into the stratosphere. Garrett was arguably the best lineman in the conference last year as a true freshman, virtually unblockable off the edge. Videos of him abusing Auburn’s Shon Coleman are still easily findable online. Obioha could be almost as strong, but he needs to be more focused from play to play. Alonzo Williams returns at tackle,with either Hardreck Walker or Zaycoven Henderson getting the other starting tackle spot. It will only be a matter of time before signee Daylon Mack gets on the field; he was nearly unblockable in camp and all-star work after the 2014 high school season, and he’s custom-built for the middle of a John Chavis defense. Daeshon Hall and Qualen Cunningham are likely to be the backups at the ends, while Justin Manning and Jarrett Johnson add depth. If Chavis can get Obioha to play to potential and Mack develops quickly, this unit will be stout.
The coaches will have their work cut out for them. The only position reasonably set right now is Josh Walker at middle linebacker. He has some starting experience already and is coming off injury. He’s built like a classic Chavis middle linebacker and the coaches are high on his attitude. The outside positions will fall to A.J. Hilliard, Otaro Alaka and Shaan Washington. Alaka made waves late in the 2014 season, but Hilliard is steady and Washington has good strength and bulk and would give A&M options in regards to rushing the passer. Depth is sketchy; Claude George would appear to be the top option at middle linebacker while true freshman Richard Moore is in the mix on the outside. Experience here is basically non-existent behind Walker, Alaka, Hilliard and Washington. And if they can’t handle Chavis’ schemes, this falls apart quickly.
The A&M secondary has been underachieving ever since the Aggies joined the conference. In 2015, Texas A&M will be hoping that cornerback De’Vante Harris finally lives up to the hype and takes over the unit. Texas A&M ranked 80th in pass defense in 2014 – which was actually better than expected, although probably due to the fact that the team was 109th in rush defense and opponents never felt the need to pass. The other cornerback position opposite Harris is a complete mystery; Tavares Garner, Victor Harris and Nick Harvey battled for the job in the spring and no one really claimed it. Harris has a slim lead. The safety situation is just about the same. Armani Watts returns to hold down one of the starting gigs, but Devonta Burns lost the other one in the spring and is trying to get it back. Justin Evans and Donovan Wilson are battling Burns at the moment. Alex Sezer Jr. provides depth at corner, as does Noel Ellis. In addition to Justin Evans, a pair of fellow signees, Justin Dunning and Roney Elam, are options at safety. Dunning in particular has the size to play early and may eventually grow into a linebacker. Look for this group to use multiple starting lineups throughout the season while Chavis tries to find something approaching competency.
Finally, a group that doesn’t need anything. Drew Kaser pushed Alabama’s J.K. Scott for the title of best SEC punter all season. Placekicker Taylor Bertolet hasn’t lived up to hype yet, but he certainly has the raw talent. And no one has a kick returner better than Speedy Noil, quite possibly the most perfectly-named kick returner in football history. If Bertolet can get the kinks worked out, the Aggies could lead the league in overall special teams prowess.
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