The journey to claim the 2012 national title begins in February, March and April, as 124 college football teams open up spring practice over the next three months. Athlon will preview some of the top teams and storylines across the nation, as the countdown to 2012 inches closer.
Texas A&M Aggies 2012 Spring Preview
2011 Record: 7-6, 4-5 Big 12
Spring practice: March 31-April 28
Returning Starters: Offense – 6, Defense – 4
Passing: Jameill Showers, 4 of 5, 40 yds., 0 TD, 0 INTs
Rushing: Christine Michael, 149 car., 899 yds., 8 TDs
Receiving: Ryan Swope, 89 rec., 1,207 yds., 11 TDs
Tackles: Jonathan Stewart, 98
Sacks: Sean Porter, 9.5
Interceptions: Steven Terrell, 2
Redshirts to watch: QB Johnny Manziel, WR Mike Evans, S Devonta Burns
Early Enrollees: QB Matt Davis, DB Tremaine Jacobs, DB Kenneth Marshall, WR Derel Walker
JUCO Transfers to Watch: DB Tremaine Jacobs, WR Derel Walker
Aug. 30 at Louisiana Tech
Sept. 8 Florida
Sept. 15 at SMU
Sept. 22 South Carolina State
Sept. 29 Arkansas
Oct. 6 at Ole Miss
Oct. 20 LSU
Oct. 27 at Auburn
Nov. 3 at Mississippi State
Nov. 10 at Alabama
Nov. 17 Sam Houston State
Nov. 24 Missouri
Offensive Strength: Moving from the Big 12 to the SEC won’t be easy, but Texas A&M has some pieces to build around in 2012. The offensive line should be one of the best in the conference, as tackles Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews will both contend for All-SEC honors. In addition to the strength up front, there’s plenty of depth at receiver and three talented running backs on the roster.
Offensive Weakness: Quarterback play. Ryan Tannehill was solid during his tenure as Texas A&M’s starter and will likely be one of the first 10-15 picks off the board in the 2012 NFL Draft. Four candidates are in the mix to replace Tannehill this spring and the battle may go up until the final week of fall practices. Although the Aggies have three quality running backs, they have to be worried about the health of Christine Michael coming off a torn ACL in early November.
Defensive Strength: Even with Damontre Moore expected to move to defensive end, the Aggies should feel good about the group of returning linebackers. Sean Porter recorded 79 tackles and 9.5 sacks last year, while Steven Jenkins pitched in 61 stops. Jonathan Stewart earned honorable mention All-Big 12 honors last season and chipped in 98 tackles and three sacks.
Defensive Weakness: The play of the secondary was a constant concern last year, and the coaching staff still has plenty of issues with this group heading into spring practice. The Aggies allowed 276.3 passing yards per game last season in the Big 12 and lose a couple of key contributors. Although the passing attacks in the SEC aren’t nearly as dynamic as the ones in the Big 12, the Aggies need to shore up this area in preseason workouts.
Spring Storylines Facing the Aggies
1. Goodbye Big 12. Hello SEC. That’s the theme in College Station this spring, as the Aggies are on the move to the toughest conference in college football. Texas A&M has all of the resources necessary to eventually compete in the SEC, but the transition period will certainly have a few bumps in the road. As if changing conferences wasn’t enough, the Aggies will have a new head coach and schemes in 2012. Kevin Sumlin takes over Texas A&M after a successful tenure at Houston and should be a great fit in College Station. Sumlin is certainly aware of the expectations at Texas A&M, as he coached under R.C. Slocum from 2001-02.
2. The biggest on-field question mark facing the Aggies in 2012 rests under center with the quarterback battle. Ryan Tannehill departs after throwing for 3,744 yards and 29 scores last season, leaving four inexperienced candidates to compete for time this spring. Jameill Showers tossed five passes in a backup role last year and has the most experience of any quarterback on the Texas A&M roster. He will face competition from Matt Joeckel, redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel and true freshman Matt Davis. With a deep receiving corps, Sumlin and offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury won’t be afraid to throw it around this year. However, the Aggies have to find and settle on a starting quarterback for the offense to take off. Although Showers has the most experience, this is really a wide-open battle that could be decided late in fall camp.
3. Outside of the quarterback battle, the running backs will probably get the most attention in spring practice. Christine Michael was off to a terrific start last year (899 yards and eight touchdowns), but suffered a torn ACL in the early November loss to Oklahoma. Although Michael is expected to return to full strength for the opener, this is his second major leg injury in three seasons with the Aggies. Kingsbury will slowly work Michael back into the rotation in the fall, which makes spring practice even more important for Ben Malena. The sophomore fared well in limited work, adding 83 yards against Texas and 77 yards and two touchdowns against Northwestern. Incoming freshman Trey Williams ranked as the No. 19 prospect in the 2012 Athlon Consensus 100 and should work his way into the mix as the No. 3 back this year. Even if Michael is slow to return to 100 percent, Malena and Williams is a solid one-two punch to begin the year. However, it’s important for all of the running backs get into the mix this preseason and get comfortable with the new schemes.
4. New defensive coordinator Mark Snyder should be a good fit in College Station, but he will have his work cut out for him from the opening snap of spring practice. The Aggies previously ran the 3-4, but plan to switch back to the 4-3. The defensive line must replace end Tony Jerod-Eddie and tackle Eddie Brown, but return honorable mention All-Big 12 selection Spencer Nealy and linebacker Damontre Moore (8.5 sacks) is moving back to end. The linebacking corps is solid, but needs to be better in pass defense. The secondary is a glaring concern for Snyder, as cornerbacks Terrence Frederick, Lionel Smith and Coryell Judie and safety Trent Hunter have expired their eligibility. The coaching staff dipped into the JUCO ranks to help solve the question marks in this area, bringing in Tremaine Jacobs to help add to the depth and competition. The Aggies finished 2011 ranked 109th in pass defense, but won’t have to face as many pass-happy offenses in the SEC. However, shoring up the secondary and keeping the pass rush among the best in college football has to be the top priority for Snyder this spring.
By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
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