There's a whole lot of "newness" at Texas A&M this year – new coach, new offense, new defense, new quarterback and a new conference.
A&M has left the Big 12 and joined the SEC. The Aggies haven't won a conference title since 1998, and they'll be joining the SEC West, the toughest division in college football.
The SEC obviously is known for strong defenses, and that has to worry virtually every Aggies fans because A&M has been lax on defense the past few seasons.
|Coach: Kevin Sumlin (1st season)
Last season: 7-6 overall, 4-5 in Big 12
Spring practice dates: March 31-April 28
Returning starters (minimum 7 starts last season):
Offense (7): TE Nehemiah Hicks, T Luke Joeckel, C Patrick Lewis, T Jake Matthews, WR Uzoma Nwachukwu, WR Ryan Swope, G Brian Thomas
Defense (5): T Eddie Brown Jr., E/LB Damontre Moore, E Spencer Nealy, LB Sean Porter, LB Jonathan Stewart
Special teams (1): P Ryan Epperson
New coach Kevin Sumlin hired Mark Snyder away from USF to be his defensive coordinator. Snyder is scrapping the 3-4 defense favored by predecessor Tim DeRuyter (who now is coach at Fresno State) and installing a 4-3 scheme.
There are a lot of questions on that side of the ball heading into spring drills. Do the Aggies have enough bodies and enough size at tackle? Can the guys who played outside linebacker in the 3-4 either transform into ends or be useful in the 4-3? Are there SEC-caliber defensive backs on the roster?
The questions on offense aren't nearly as plentiful. There is a big hole at quarterback, though, with the departure of Ryan Tannehill.
The good news is that the other positions look strong. Four fulltime line starters return. There is a solid group of receivers. And there is talent at tailback, though the injury issues that afflict Christine Michael are troublesome.
The Aggies also need a new kicker.
The biggest problem: Defense. Any time you enter spring drills without an incumbent quarterback, it's a concern. But A&M's biggest issues are on defense, particularly the line. As the Aggies switch to Mark Snyder's 4-3 scheme from a 3-4, they'll do it with two starters from 2011 gone and limited depth. Linebackers such as Damontre Moore and Brandon Alexander likely will move to defensive end, and Spencer Nealy should hold the other end spot. Kirby Ennis and Jonathan Mathis will be counted on to start at the tackle slots. But behind them is next to no experience, giving the Aggies a front that is at least slightly undersized, and with a lot of unknown commodities. Not a good combination heading into the smashmouth SEC West.
[Big 12 spring preview: West Virginia, TCU bring new look to league – again]
On the spot: QB Jameill Showers. Showers is the only quarterback on the roster to have taken a snap in a game, but his experience is limited. New coach Kevin Sumlin is familiar with the rifle-armed Showers, which is a plus for him, but a stern challenge from redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel in spring practice should be expected. If Showers is going to be the guy to replace Ryan Tannehill, he needs to outperform Manziel, sophomore Matt Joeckel and freshman Matt Davis right off the bat.
On the verge: LB Brandon Alexander. He was a late arrival to campus, but he turned out to be the most productive of the three true freshman outside linebackers who played last season. This season, the sophomore probably will be back at defensive end, where he played in high school. Freakishly athletic at 6 feet 6 and 240 pounds, Alexander likely will back up Moore at defensive end, but he could line up on the opposite side on passing downs. If he's able to provide a third pass-rush threat to go with Moore and OLB Sean Porter, it would be a tremendous boost to the Aggies' defense.
General overview: The major goals are simple – the successful implementation of new offensive and defensive schemes. After that, the Aggies need to find out who has a chance to be their quarterback, who's going to be in the rotation on the defensive line and figure out who can replace CBs Coryell Judie, Terrence Frederick and Lionel Smith. They also need to determine who's going to take Jeff Fuller's place as an outside receiver and Trent Hunter at safety. If A&M is to succeed this season, youngsters such as CBs Floyd Raven and DeShazor Everett, S Howard Matthews and DT Shayvion Hatten will have to show substantial improvement from last season. In short, there's a lot more changing in College Station this spring than signs indicating the Aggies' conference affiliation.
For in-depth coverage of Texas A&M athletics, go to AggieYell.com
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- Kevin Sumlin