The buzz around Texas A&M heading into SEC Media Days was a little different this time around compared to 2013. This time last year, Johnny Manziel mania was in full swing and head coach Kevin Sumlin was faced with numerous questions about his Heisman-winning quarterback’s off-the-field behavior.
After scoffing at a few Manziel-related questions, Sumlin made it perfectly clear in the early going that he is not ready to name Manziel’s replacement, but he did offer a general time frame as to when the decision will be made. Both freshman Kyle Allen and sophomore Kenny Hill are being considered to start the opener on the road at South Carolina.
“I didn't come here today to tell you who the quarterback was going to be, so we can eliminate those questions. That will play itself out. I think we're looking at a couple weeks before we play South Carolina that we'll name a starter,” Sumlin said.
Whoever Sumlin selects to lead his offense has a lot on his plate in the opener. Veteran leadership will be key in guiding a first-year signal caller in a hostile environment. Sumlin admitted he might be forced to scale back the playbook a bit, too.
“Our guys understand that because whoever that is (at quarterback), is going to be a young guy going into a very hostile situation in Columbia the first game of the year on the SEC Network,” Sumlin said. “I understand there's not going to be another Johnny Manziel. Now, does that mean that we change offensively? Maybe. Does that mean that we change offensively for him? That might be the case.”
Performance during fall practice will ultimately decide the quarterback battle. Sumlin said that both guys “have shown the ability to be resilient,” but they have never seen anything like the environment they’ll place on opening night.
“Certainly none of them have been through what they’re going to face that day. It’s our job to try to give them a plan that they can execute,” Sumlin said.
We’ll just have to wait and see who that quarterback will be.
A&M's recruiting prowess
Sumlin’s success recruiting the state of Texas over the last few years has been well-publicized. After hauling in the fourth-best class in the nation in 2014, the Aggies currently boast the No. 3 ranked class for 2015. Of the team’s 18 current verbal commitments, 15 are from the state of Texas.
When asked if he was surprised about the success, Sumlin was not hesitant to brag a bit.
“If I was surprised, I wouldn't have taken the job. How is that?” Sumlin said with a smile. “I've been around for a long time. I was recruiting Texas when I was at Purdue. We've got a lot of ties there, know a lot of people. We've got great high school football in the state of Texas. I understand that. Because of that, I think the transition for me from a recruiting standpoint, the transition has been probably easier than it would be for most.”
There’s no way around it. Texas A&M’s defense was awful in 2013. The Aggies ranked 109th (out of 123) in total defense and allowed 475.8 yards per game and 6.36 yards per play. If the Aggies are to improve beyond their 9-4 record from last season, Sumlin knows the defense has to improve considerably and it all starts up front.
“We'll have some guys which we didn't have last year that can get their own pass‑rush instead of trying to create pressure with blitzes and different situations,” Sumlin said. “So, you know, guys like he and Myles Garrett, some of the others, Julien Obioha, who has been starting since he was a freshman, those guys that can create their own pass‑rush, which will give us a chance to keep our secondary intact instead of bringing guys out of the back end. All that makes your defense a lot better.”
Contender or transition year?
With a new quarterback taking over and so many young contributors on both sides of the ball, some around the conference consider 2014 to be more of a transitional year for the Aggies as opposed to a year where they can truly compete in the SEC West. Drawing on past experience, Sumlin said he has expectations of his own for his team, but doesn’t pay attention to the outsider’s view.
“We have our own expectations, I'll put it that way. We have to because year one, nobody expected anything out of us. Last year, we were expected to beat the Green Bay Packers. I have to have a reasonable expectation for what we try to do. What we try to do is be the very, very best team that we can be on Saturday. We don't have time for a bunch of rebuilding years. There would be another guy standing up here real quick,” Sumlin said.
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