Spring football is in the air, and with our Spring Practice Primers the Eye On College Football Blog gets you up to speed on what to look for on campuses around the country this spring. Today we look at Texas A&M.
Spring Practice Starts: March 31
Spring Game: April 28
Returning starters: 9 offensive, 6 defensive, 1 specialist.
Three Things To Look For:
1. Who's the quarterback? And can he do a reasonable Case Keenum impression? The good news for Kevin Sumlin: he's not short of options when it comes to replacing Ryan Tannehill under center. The bad news: no one can say for certain how solid those options are, and it may take some time for what looks like the most muddled quarterback race in the SEC to sort itself out. Sumlin has four quarterbacks to choose from: sophomore dual-threat QB Jameill Showers, sophomore pocket(ish) passer Matt Joeckel, highly regarded redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel (a one-time Oregon commitment), and true freshman Matt Davis, the only Sumlin signee of the bunch. Though it's anyone's guess who'll ultimately win the job, the closest eyes should probably be kept on Showers and Manziel--the former served as Tannehill's backup in 2011, but Manziel excelled throughout practice in 2011 and may have the higher upside. Given the offensive overhaul Sumlin and coordinator Kliff Kingsbury will be overseeing, Showers's (and Joeckel's) experience may not be as valuable as it would be otherwise.
Whoever emerges, though, will also have to prove that they're capable of handling an offense that begins and ends with its quarterback's play.
2. Is the running game going to live up to the hype? Of course, while there's been plenty of chatter about Sumlin and Kingsbury sticking to the 50-passes-a-game plan that won so many games at Houston (and turned Keenum into a Heisman contender), don't expect them to turn their noses up at the bounty of riches they have in the ground game in College Station. A year ago the Aggies finished 18th in the FBS in yards-per-carry at 5.11, and in 2012 return all five offensive line starters, including bookend tackles Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews. Though Cyrus Gray has moved on, Christine Michael will be back and five-star recruit Trey Williams will give the Aggies a potentially lethal one-two punch.
We say "potentially" because neither player will be on view this spring; Michael will be rehabbing from the torn ACL that cut short his 2011 season and Williams won't enroll until this fall. But if the line can adjust to the new schemes quickly, dominate as expected, and give backup tailback Ben Malena room to strut his stuff, it'll be a very good omen for the fall indeed.
3. How much can Mark Snyder get done this spring? For all the talk about Sumlin and Co. adjusting their offense to the SEC, their track record (and the level of talent) suggests that side of the ball will, eventually, be fine. The bigger question is whether a defense that finished 70th in the nation in scoring D can even tread water after losing both coordinator strong>Tim DeRuyter and top-notch talents Coryell Judie, Tony Jerod-Eddie, and Eddie Brown. New coordinator Snyder will also have to engineer a switch from DeRuyter's signature 3-4 base to his preferred 4-3, never an easy task. The cupboard is hardly bare -- among the six returning starters are all four linebackers, including potential stars Steven Jenkins and Jonathan Stewart -- but Snyder has a long road ahead of him. Getting his new defense on the same page schematically this spring would be a major first step. Finding a couple of breakout players to make that scheme work? Even better.
To check in on the rest of the SEC and other BCS conferences, check out the Spring Practice Schedule.
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