Big 12: Matt Featherston
Defensive line: After losing starters Jason Lamb and Trey Bryant and having Phil Taylor and Earl Patin entering their senior seasons, the Bears need to add immediate depth. Xavier Ruben and Anthony Gonzales will help shore up the deficiencies and the Bears still are in the hunt for top prospects like Carlos Thompson and Byran Jones.
Secondary: Starters Jordan Lake and Jeremy Williams have graduated and four juniors in the two-deep roster will start their senior seasons. Coach Art Briles has already lured surprising strength in the defensive backfield with Ahmad Dixon, Tyler Stephenson and Prince Kent. That trio makes it one of the finest positional groupings for Baylor in recent history.
Robert Griffin’s redshirt season has lessened the immediate need at quarterback: With Griffin now having three years of eligibility remaining, recruits now see only a two-season window to play. But another Robert Griffin should help the Bears as well. Baylor coaches see the other Griffin, a junior college transfer from Coriscana Junior College, being able to contend for the starting position at right tackle from his first day in the program.
Running back: With Chris Brown graduating and DeMarco Murray entering his senior season, the Sooners need some producers at the position. Bob Stoops has never hesitated to playing top freshman players in the past if they can help. Don’t be surprised if top recruits like Brennan Clay and Roy Finch get an early chance in 2010 with the Sooners.
Receiver: Ryan Broyles is entrenched in the slot, but the Sooners are looking all over for pass catchers who can challenge existing players. Recruits Kenny Stills, Joe Powell, Julian Wilson and Sheldon McClain all should challenge this summer to battle their way into the rotation.
Defensive tackle: Injuries and NFL declarations have riddled the Sooners’ depth at the postion. Gerald McCoy will leave early for the NFL draft with JaMarkus McFarland ready to take over. Adrian Taylor was set at the other position, but his nasty ankle injury sustained in the Sun Bowl has depleted the Sooners’ depth. Redshirt sophomore Casey Walker and four incoming freshmen are all that is in place as far as depth at the critical position.
Offensive line: The Cowboys lose four senior starting offensive linemen from the Cotton Bowl team, including the left side of their offensive line in tackle Russell Okung, guard Noah Franklin and center Andrew Lewis, as well as right tackle Brady Bond. Mike Gundy needs some immediate help at the position, both from existing players and incoming ones.
Defensive tackle: Starters Swanson Miller and Derek Burton both will graduate and top backups Shane Jarka and Chris Donaldson both will be senior this season. Defensive coordinator Bill Young needs to find some defensive linemen who can challenge for playing next season.
Linebackers: Young also will have to rebuild this group after the underrated group of Andre Sexton, Donald Booker and Patrick Lavine helped sparked the Cowboys’ surprising defensive growth last season. All will be gone this season, putting pressure to add some more contributors to add to the returning mix of players including James Thomas, Tolu Moala and Justin Gent.
Defensive end: With Sergio Kindle graduating and Sam Acho and Eddie Jones both entering their senior season, the Longhorns need a talent boost here. It also just happens to be the position where top target Jackson Jeffcoat would immediately fill the rather sizable hole.
The left side of the offensive line: Tackle Adam Ulatoski, guard Charlie Tanner and center Chris Hall combined for 114 starts during their careers.The Longhorns has some strong arriving talent, but they’ll still miss the leadership and savvy that this trio provided over the years.
Quarterback: Even with Garrett Gilbert seemingly entrenched as the Longhorns’ quarterback of the future, the Longhorns added depth with the commitments of Connor Wood and Colt’s little brother Case McCoy. It will make for some interesting competition this spring and fall as the rotation sorts itself out.
Defensive end: The Aggies received a huge boost when Von Miller announced he would return for his senior season, but A&M needs to prepare for his departure -- particularly after losing starting defensive end Matt Moss and Miller’s backup Matt Featherston as departing seniors from 2009.
Tight end: Starter Jamie McCoy graduated and top replacements Kenny Brown and Craig Raschke both will be seniors next season. Adding at least one player would be beneficial as the Aggie coaches hope they can find a combination blocker/receiving threat at the position like McCoy was.
Offensive tackle: The Aggies lose bookend senior starters Michael Shumard and Lee Grimes. They do have Stephen Barrera and Danny Baker in the depth chart but would like more depth to help the line develop.
Defensive line: The Red Raiders’ biggest need is at defensive end where all three players in the two-deep roster -- Brandon Sharpe, Ra’Jon Henley and Daniel Howard were seniors. At defensive tackle, Richard Jones departs as a senior and Colby Whitlock will be a senior next season. New coordinator James Willis needs to find some productive players in the trenches quickly.
Linebackers: Starters Bront Bird and Brian Duncan will be back as seniors next season, but Tech loses departing starter Marlon Williams on the other side. They need some depth to help build for the future at the position.
Quarterback: Taylor Potts and Steven Sheffield will wage one of the closest-watched battles for playing time in the nation during the spring and summer. But both will be seniors, meaning the Red Raiders need to prepare for their departure by grooming some young talent like Scotty Young, a recent commitment at the position.
McCoy was hit on almost every pass on Texas' first drive as Von Miller was in his face on seemingly every attempt.
Maybe the accumulation of contact caught up with him as McCoy was stopped a yard short of the first down at the Texas A&M 43-yard line by Terrence Frederick and linebacker Matt Featherston.
McCoy's pants are dirty and he walked to the sideline a slower than in the first half.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- I didn't get a drop of rain on my drive from San Antonio to Texas A&M this morning.
I probably should consider myself fortunate -- not only for that little bit of good luck, but also that I'm currently sitting in the dry press box at Kyle Field.
A heavy band of angry, dark clouds are ringing the stadium. I bet we'll be fortunate not to see any rain for Texas A&M's scrimmage which will be starting in about an hour.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry beat most of the fans into the stadium. Perry, a former Aggie Yell Leader, is bouncing around the sidelines like he did back in the old days.
Other than the governor politicking among his old friends, here are some things I'm anxious to watch with the Aggies this afternoon.
- How the makeshift Texas A&M offensive line looks. The Aggies were down to seven healthy scholarship linemen earlier this week. It will be interesting to see how they play -- particularly if they are asked to remain in for a bunch of plays against several defensive units on what figures to be a steamy afternoon.
- The progression of quarterback Jerrod Johnson. After a strong start as A&M's quarterback, Johnson tailed off badly late last season. Johnson has repeatedly said how much more comfortable he feels this spring running the offense. We'll get a glimpse of whether that is false bravado later this afternoon.
- How the "Jack" position fares in Joe Kines' retooled defense. Von Miller and Matt Featherston are getting most of the playing time at the hybrid position, which combines elements of a defensive end and linebacker.
- The running of Bradley Stephens and Cyrus Gray. Both tailbacks need as much of a boost as they can get this spring with the arrival of heralded incoming freshman Christine Michael later this summer.
- What kind of crowd turns out. Unlike many spring games, a nominal admission fee is being charged for this "game." It will be enlightening to see how many fans are willing to pay to watch this workout.
- The play of the secondary. Trent Hughes and Jordan Pugh have been solid at safety, but the cornerbacks will be under scrutiny today. Terrence Frederick, Justin McQueen and Marcus Gold all should be challenged by the A&M receiving corps.
- Will the guys in the white jerseys and shorts along the sidelines outnumber the substitutes? A&M has struggled with injuries -- both lingering from last season and earlier in training camp. There's a sizable contingent of injured players grouped already. I bet Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman wishes he could get them some action this spring.
I'll check back with a report after the scrimmage finishes.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
The theme of change is predominant this spring at Texas A&M.
Coach Mike Sherman hopes to transform his program as the Aggies begin practice on Thursday. A&M hopes to rebound after last season's disappointing 4-8 record that saw them tied for fifth in the Big 12 South with Baylor.
The most notable switch will happen at quarterback, where wide receiver Ryan Tannehill will move to quarterback -- at least for the spring -- where he will challenge starting quarterback Jerrod Johnson.
Sherman's move is calculated to boost production in the offense. Tannehill, who was recruited to Texas A&M as a quarterback, was promised a chance to move to his original position after a standout freshman season at wide receiver.
Even as Tannehill recovers from offseason surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder, Aggie coaches are excited about what Tannehill could do at quarterback.
That's even considering his production at wide receiver, where he set school freshman records for receptions (55) and receiving yards (814) and was named the team's most valuable offensive player.
"He's actually doing very well with his rehab," Sherman told reporters at his Wednesday press conference. "We don't want to throw the ball with him right now. He feels very good but doctors are holding him back because we want to make sure he's at 100 percent."
And on defense, the Aggies hope to improve after last season's disappointments. A&M ranked among the nation's 12 worst defenses in all four major statistical categories -- 108th in pass efficiency defense and 114th in rushing defense, passing defense and points allowed.
It was even worse in conference play. A&M allowed at least 35 points in seven of eight conference games, capped by a three-game losing streak at the end of the regular season where the Aggies permitted an average of 52 points per game.
Hopeful of turning that around, Sherman will install a defense that will feature four linebackers. Veterans Matt Featherston and Von Miller into a hybrid position Sherman has termed a "jack" where the players will be lined up at either linebacker or end.
"We're trying to get more speed on the field by playing more linebackers," Sherman said. "It's easier to find linebackers, kind of link in the old days when we used to recruit them. We always found safeties that we made into linebackers and (moved them).
Sherman told reporters Wednesday he's also made several other changes, moving starting defensive tackle Lucas Patterson to offensive left tackle in a move calculated to improve A&M's pass protection. The Aggies ranked 115th nationally with 39 sacks allowed.
"We needed to impact our offensive line," Sherman said. "I think in order for us to be a good football team we've got to be tougher every single day on both sides of the ball and I think it starts with those guys. If we don't get tougher and nastier with that group then we won't have the success we want to have."
Starting cornerback Jordan Pugh has been moved to safety and Jordan Peterson, who started four games at safety last season, has been switched to cornerback. And wide receiver Chris Caflisch will be moved to safety.
"I think it's a more natural position for him (Pugh) and if he has a future beyond college, I think it would be at that position," Sherman said. "We want a guy back there who can communicate and articulate what we're trying to do defensively."
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Texas A&M (2-4, 0-2 Big 12): New coach Mike Sherman's season started badly when it squandered a 14-3 halftime lead in a nightmarish season-opening 18-14 home loss to Arkansas State. It has only gone downhill since then as A&M has dropped three home losses before mid-October for the first time in the school's modern era of football. Projected starting quarterback Stephen McGee was injured against New Mexico and has played sporadically since then. The Aggies' defense has struggled mightily against the run, ranking 111th nationally and allowing at least 215 rushing yards in five games. The Aggies rank better than eighth in only one Big 12 team statistical category -- pass defense. And considering how other teams have gashed them in the trenches, few opponents have worried about passing against them very often.
Offensive MVP, Jerrod Johnson: The backup quarterback took the starting job over after McGee was hurt. Despite some early turnover problems, he's showing some strong promise for the future. Johnson set a school record for total offense (487 yards) and became the first player in school history to pass for 400 yards in a game last week against Kansas State. The sophomore figures to get a lot of work during the last half of the season as Sherman builds for next season and beyond.
Defensive MVP, Matt Featherston: Where has the Wrecking Crew gone? Joe Kines' unit has played nothing like those storied defenses of the past, allowing 100 points in their last two games. The best player on the struggling unit has been Featherston, a junior linebacker who leads the team with 50 tackles and has forced a fumble.
What's next: The Aggies will be tested to keep from becoming the A&M team to not win four games since the 1972 team finished 3-8. They will have a couple of chances at winnable games against Colorado and on the road against Iowa State and Baylor. A&M likely needs two victories to keep from skidding into the Big 12 South basement for the first time in school history. Sherman has already started building for the future with freshmen players like Johnson, Jeff Fuller, Evan Eike, Garrick Williams and Tony Jerod-Eddie inserted into the starting lineup. Look for more as the season winds down.
|John Albright/Icon SMI|
|Mike Sherman returned to Texas A&M after spending time in the NFL.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Former Green Bay Packers coach Mike Sherman returned to Texas A&M where he had served as an assistant coach on R.C. Slocum's power-packed teams of the early 1990s. Whether he can return the Aggies to that lofty position remains to be seen. It might be a challenge for Sherman to crack the expected Oklahoma/Texas Tech/Texas logjam at the top of the South Division.
With eight days before the Aggies' Aug. 30 opener against Arkansas State, here are five major questions that have to be settled for the Aggies to have a successful season:
1. Can the offensive line develop?
Only one starter returns and the Aggies will be green in the trenches. Whether this group can open enough holes to accentuate the talents of Mike Goodson and Co. remains to be seen. It will be A&M's biggest question this season.
2. Are there any playmaking linebackers on the roster?
Losing Misi Tupe and Mark Dodge will hurt. But A&M coaches look for some of the young talent to surprise people. Keep an eye on converted DE Von Miller, converted DB Garrick Williams and Matt Featherston.
3. Will Jerrod Johnson see much action this season?
The Aggies' backup has been compared to Vince Young and Randall Cunningham because of his athleticism. Interestingly, he showed more at the Aggies' recent scrimmage as a tight end. But don't be surprised if he gets some playing time during the season at quarterback, particularly if Stephen McGee struggles against some opponents. But it wouldn't also surprise me if he got a chance to work at tight end as well.
4. Can Sherman find any consistency at wide receiver?
Don't be surprised if freshman Jeff Fuller becomes an immediate playmaker after arriving at school for the spring semester. The Aggies also need some consistency from players like E.J. Shankle, Howard Morrow and Pierre Brown. All have received extensive previous playing time but need to show more in order to be featured. Somebody has to step up.
5. How will Jorvorskie Lane handle the move to fullback?
Lane has been battling his weight throughout his college career and has missed several recent practices with a neck injury. But don't look for him to get many carries with a deep tailback rotation that includes Goodson, Cyrus Gray and Bradley Stephens. Lane will be more of a receiver and short-yardage threat. And if he pouts about his role, he won't play.