The only thing that will be hotter than the Texas temperatures this summer will be the anticipation for the 12th Man readying for the start of Texas A&M football on Aug. 31. Jimbo Fisher made believers out of the Aggie faithful and more importantly out of the players on the A&M roster in 2018 seeing the squad reach the nine-win mark (9-4, 5-3 SEC) for the first time since the '13 season. The fervor upped another notch with an end-of-season No. 16 AP ranking after a 52-13 spanking of NC State in the Gator Bowl. Now all attention turns to what Fisher can do in Year 2 with the Aggies.
The hype is real in College Station with fans eagerly anticipating the Maroon & White Game on April 13. With his arrival from Florida State, Fisher implemented a pro-style attack, turning away from the spread under former head coach Kevin Sumlin, and with great success. The Aggies' offense finished 15th out of 129 teams nationally, averaging 472 yards per game, an improvement of 65 yards per contest. This increased offensive production helped the defense stay fresh, likewise resulting in an improvement from 78th in yards allowed per game in 2017 to 32nd under first-year coordinator Mike Elko. After improving on both sides of the ball, A&M is eyeing a first 10-win season since 2012, the Aggies' first year in the SEC, and just the third since the '98 campaign. For them to get there, however, hard work has to be put in during the spring.
5 Storylines to Watch During Texas A&M's Spring Practices
1. Replacing Trayveon Williams
Williams had a season to remember in 2018, leading the SEC in rushing (1,760) and touchdowns (18) before entering the NFL draft. While Williams was racking up 271 carries, that left little room for other A&M tailbacks to tote the rock. True freshman Jashaun Corbin was the third-leading rusher on the team, behind Williams and starting quarterback Kellen Mond, with 346 yards on 61 carries and one touchdown.
Corbin appears to be the heir apparent for Williams but he could be pushed by Charles Strong, Jacob Kibodi, and Deneric Prince during the spring session. The thunder to whoever wins the tailback job is Vernon Jackson. When fall camp rolls around, four-star incoming freshman Isaiah Spiller could edge a few people out of the way on the depth chart.
2. Finding SEC starters at linebacker
Defensive coordinator Mike Elko is in a tough situation after losing his two most productive defenders, linebackers Tyrel Dodson and Otaro Alaka. Alaka led the team in stops (79) and tackles for a loss (14.5). Now the task is to find two more SEC-quality linebackers to pair with returning starter Buddy Johnson to anchor the middle of the defense.
No matter what happens in the spring, this group will be young but it also will be athletic. Five Class of 2019 linebackers were signed, two are already on campus; four-star Andre White Jr. and three-star RJ Orebo. More help is coming with four-star Ke’Shun Brown along with three-star recruits Tarian Lee Jr. and Christopher Russell. Orebo is the lone middle linebacker type listed at 6-foot-7 and 235-pounds.
3. Pass protection on the edges
The growth of Mond under Jimbo Fisher last season was immense. Mond could challenge his peer group as the conference’s top passer in 2019, especially with all the amazing talent he has on the outside. One area of the passing attack that needs to be firmed up this spring is pass protection. The only area Mond challenged for the lead in within the SEC a year ago was sacks taken (34).
The offensive line lost center Erik McCoy and tackle Keaton Sutherland to the NFL. The good news, Carson Green (RT) and Dan Moore (LT) return. Green is a better pass protector than run blocker while Moore is better at run blocking than protecting Mond’s blind side. Depth at both tackle spots is there in Kellen Diesch, a converted four-star defensive end, and Colten Blanton, provided he can stay healthy. Both are inexperienced but athletic. With the talent at receiver along with Mond’s improvements, a little extra time to deliver the ball could mean winning some tight games in the fall. New offensive line coach Josh Henson will be put to the test early this spring.
4. Replacing All-American tight end Jace Sternberger
Sternberger was not only the best tight end in the SEC but one of the best in the nation after securing 48 passes for 832 yards and 10 touchdowns. As an early NFL draft entrant, Sternberger’s productivity leaves a big hole in the Aggies’ offense. This leaves a load of responsibility and a great opportunity for a newcomer.
One name to keep an eye on is Baylor Cupp, an early enrollee who is taking part in spring practice. This gives him a head start over fellow four-star recruit Jaylen Wydermyer. Both offer appealing size (Cupp is 6-4, 240, while Wydermyer is 6-5, 240) but will have to show enough as blockers to increase their chances of playing right away. If either shows they are ready, he could emerge as an immediate contributor serving as a security blanket of sorts for Mond.
5. The receiver competition
As a college football fan, this is what the Aggies want to see at every position each season, a tremendous amount of talent returning with each vying to be the next A&M great. All four leading wideouts return, a group that includes Quartney Davis, Camron Buckley, Jhamon Ausbon, and Kendrick Rogers. Davis is the leader after posting 45 receptions for 585 yards and seven touchdowns last season. Rogers may have the most potential due to his size (6-4, 210), speed, and athletic ability.
Watch out for four-star early enrollee Kam Brown. Brown projects as an inside receiver (6-0, 176) after pulling in 30 passes for 533 yards and seven touchdowns during his senior season at nearby Colleyville Heritage. Two big receivers will push the uber-talented group in fall camp, Dylan Wright (6-4, 215) and Kenyon Jackson (6-5.5, 195). However it all plays out, this will be a fun group to watch this spring and into the fall.
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience and is a member of the FWAA. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and has his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @RyanWrightRNG.