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How will Kevin Sumlin replace Johnny Manziel?
Texas A&M’s second go-around in the SEC wasn’t quite as prolific as its 11-2 record in 2012, but the Aggies still won nine games and finished No. 18 in the final Associated Press poll.
When building a program, it may be necessary to take a step back before taking a step forward. That could be the case at Texas A&M, especially with the program making significant facility upgrades and the monetary commitment to keep coach Kevin Sumlin in College Station.
Sumlin and his staff have recruited back-to-back top-10 recruiting classes, so the future is bright for Texas A&M. However, replacing quarterback Johnny Manziel, left tackle Jake Matthews and receiver Mike Evans is no easy task. And the Aggies still need to find answers for a defense that allowed 6.4 yards per play. With key personnel losses on offense, the defense has to improve if Texas A&M wants to match last year’s nine wins.
Texas A&M Aggies 2014 Spring Preview
2013 Record: 9-4 (4-4 SEC)
Spring Practice Opens: February 28
Final Practice: April 5 (no spring game)
Three Things to Watch in Texas A&M’s 2014 Spring Practice
1. Replacing Johnny Manziel: As one of the top quarterbacks of the BCS era, Manziel’s production will be impossible to replace in 2014. However, the Aggies aren’t hurting for options and talent at quarterback. Senior Matt Joeckel has made 10 career appearances and threw for 293 yards and two scores on 22 completions last year. Sophomore Kenny Hill was 16 of 22 for 183 yards and one touchdown in limited work in 2013 and ranked as the No. 24 quarterback by Athlon Sports in the 2013 signing class. But the wildcard and perhaps most intriguing option is true freshman Kyle Allen. The Arizona native was the No. 10 recruit in the 2014 signing class in the 247Sports Composite ranking and threw for 2,535 yards and 29 touchdowns as a high school senior. Allen enrolled early to compete for the job this spring. Will one of the three quarterbacks emerge as a frontrunner before the final spring practice on April 5? Or will this battle extend into the fall? It’s unrealistic to expect any of the quarterbacks to post Manziel-like numbers. However, Texas A&M’s offense should still be lethal regardless of who wins the job.
2. Developing chemistry on the offensive line: With four starters returning, Texas A&M should have one of the top offensive lines in the SEC. However, this unit isn’t without question marks as spring practice opens. Left tackle Jake Matthews expired his eligibility, and the coaching staff is expected to move right tackle Cedric Ogbuehi – a likely first-round pick in 2015 – to the left side. Ogbuehi’s move creates a void at right tackle, and a couple of players could get into the mix. Joseph Cheek was listed as the backup last season, and Jeremiah Stuckey was a top-100 junior college recruit in the class of 2013. And this year’s signing class brought in Jermaine Eluemunor and Avery Gennesy from the junior college ranks, with both players expected to push for time. Although moving Ogbuehi to the left side is likely the only position change, the coaching staff may shuffle some players around to find the best combination before settling on the starting five.
3. Fixing the defense: Instead of breaking down each individual unit on defense, let’s just lump everything into this category. There’s really no way to sugarcoat the numbers on defensein a positive way for Texas A&M last season. The Aggies struggled mightily on this side of the ball and were bailed out by an explosive offense. But with Manziel off to the NFL, it’s unlikely Texas A&M will average 44.2 points per game. Considering the offense will slightly regress, the defense has to do its part to keep Texas A&M in contention for nine wins once again. There’s certainly no shortage of talent in College Station, but Sumlin and coordinator Mark Snyder will have a lineup that features a lot of youth in 2014. Incoming freshman Myles Garrett is a potential difference maker in the trenches, but can he play major snaps as a true freshman? The good news for Snyder is eight starters are back, including linebacker Darian Claiborne, tackle Isaiah Golden, cornerback Deshazor Everett and end Julien Obioha. The Aggies don’t have to be a shutdown defense in 2014, but there has to be progress to help cover for the losses on offense.
2014 Early Projected Win Range: 7-9
As we mentioned earlier, Texas A&M is due to take a step back with Manziel, Evans and Matthews moving to the NFL. But the program isn’t in bad shape, and there’s a positive trajectory for this team with Kevin Sumlin at the helm. With a new starting quarterback and a rebuilding defense, the Aggies are a team in transition. The schedule doesn’t provide for many breaks either, as Texas A&M opens at South Carolina and plays road games at Mississippi State, Alabama and Auburn. Ouch. However, expect the young talent to improve with each snap, and the Aggies will be a tough out for everyone in the SEC this year.